With work complete on the outside of a one-room schoolhouse in West Akron, local preservationists will turn their attention to the inside of the 1870 structure.
They want to remove knotty-pine paneling and cabinets along the back of the school to reveal the original chalkboard, which is visible with a peek inside the cabinets. Other plans include refinishing the white oak floors now hidden beneath orange-striped carpet, completing the restoration of the huge windows, and adding a coat room, bathroom, kitchenette, storage space and memorial library.
“We still have a ways to go,” said Mark Gilles, an Akron architect who is overseeing the project for the Preservation Alliance of Greater Akron, formerly Progress Through Preservation. “We’re a whole lot better than we were in 2009.”
That’s when the group began its project to restore the schoolhouse at West Market Street and White Pond Drive. The building, also known as Preservation House, has 140 years of continuous use — first as a school, then as a library and, finally, as a meeting place for community groups.
While the Preservation Alliance continues its restoration project, the group is seeking recognition of the school’s historic significance. Akron City Council last week approved a historic designation for the building, which the group had sought for three years.
“We’re happy it finally made its way through the process of getting listed,” said Diane Orender, the alliance’s board president.
The City Council also voted to purchase a house adjacent to Judith Bear Isroff Park, which includes the school. The house will be razed, with the cleared property added to the park. The $65,000 expense for the house will be split by Akron and the Howland Memorial Fund of Akron.
The Preservation Alliance has begun the process of getting on the National Register of Historic Places. The group has provided initial information and is in the process of gathering more documentation. A national recognition would make the property eligible for state and federal grants to help with the restoration effort.
The group so far has raised more than $125,000, most from local foundations, and received about $25,000 in in-kind contributions, including for the removal of white paint from the red bricks on the outside of the school. Other outside improvements include a cedar-shingle roof and the reinstallation of a belfry and a working bell on top of the building.
Orender said a fundraising drive will begin this year to cover the cost of indoor improvements.
The project is serving an educational purpose. Alliance member John Burnell, an adjunct professor at Ursuline College, is using it to provide students in his historic-preservation class with hands-on experience by restoring the large windows in the school.
They will soon begin finishing the replacement of the window sashes, reglazing and replacing the panes, refurbishing the wood in the frames, and putting the weights back in that will make it possible to again open and close the windows.
“I think they really enjoy it,” Burnell, who owns Mason’s Mark in Kent, said of his students. “It’s a change of pace and a chance to learn with their hands.”
Though the inside hasn’t been restored like the alliance would like, the facility is being rented out to local groups for $25 for up to four hours. Groups are regularly renting it out for club meetings, bridal showers and Bible studies.
“It’s serviceable,” Orender said. “Once we take the carpet up, restore the floor and take out the chandelier, we will really bring it to the point of restoration.”
Orender estimates it will take two to three more years to complete the project.
Anyone interested in contributing to the restoration effort can send donations to the Preservation Alliance at 2074 W. Market St., Akron, OH 44313. To contact the group, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705 or email@example.com. Follow on Twitter: @swarsmith.