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Old one-room school will stay put after relocation plan falls through

The latest plan for a one-room schoolhouse on Niagara Falls Boulevard is to keep it where it's been for the last 131 years.

After three years of trying to raise enough money to move the building, intact, about 2 1/2 miles down the road, town officials have decided to keep it where it is and develop a "full-time museum," with other amenities.

Supervisor Timothy E. Demler said the turning point in the schoolhouse saga was the discovery of hazardous asbestos siding, the cost of its removal or abatement, and the high cost of bringing the one-story structure to town property.

"The sensible plan was to keep it there," Demler said. "We want to open an historical museum and develop some shared park services with the shrine."

The schoolhouse, opened by the Town of Wheatfield District No. 3 in 1876 but not used for several decades, is on the property of the Pallottine Father's Infant Jesus Shrine, at 3452 Niagara Falls Blvd.
Abandoned for many years, the 22-by-40-foot building has steadily deteriorated and apparently has seen little use, except for storing old church and bingo items at the back of the building.

In 2004, Town Historian Chuck Cederman spotted the building during one of his drives through the town and noticed one of the Pallottine priests at the top of a ladder struggling to patch the roof. After some negotiating, and getting the go-ahead from the town historical society, Cederman struck a deal with the fathers for the town to buy the property for $1.

The condition was that the school had to be removed from the shrine land and the remaining basement had to be filled in by the town.

Despite much of the help coming from volunteers, the cost of the move alone was estimated to be at least $25,000. Trucks were lined up for the haul and the then-Niagara Mohawk Power Corp. agreed to lift the utility lines as the school was transported down the boulevard.

The structure was to be relocated to town property near the Town Hall and Community Center on Church Road. Through grants and donations, the building would be renovated into a museum for the community. Additional plans for that portion of the development would have tripled the cost, it was noted at the time.

The additional grants were slow in coming. A membership drive to garner donations was started. During the wait, skepticism began to bog down the good intentions.

One of the original project faithful, the Rev. George May of St. Florian's Church on Hertel Avenue, who is overseeing the transaction for the shrine, finally became a non-believer.

"Even the Holy Spirit doesn't know why they thought they could move it . . .," May said.

Demler agreed that the relocation was a gamble but stressed that other factors were involved. Now, the long-range thinking made more sense if the school was left at the shrine.

"You can see they have beautiful park land there," he said. "We'd like to talk about shared park services and co-use for various events."

The town's part of the deal would be to finish renovating the building for the fathers, which "would save them $30,000 to $40,000," Demler estimated.

To date, the society, through the town, secured about $5,000 in grant funding that paid for a new roof on the building last November, Cederman said.

The next step is the asbestos job that could cost up to $15,000. Bid specifications have been drawn and officials are waiting for word on more grant money before proceeding. Demler expects the siding to be removed this year.

The dilapidated wooden front stairs can be moved a lot sooner and replaced with a permanent cement version, he said.
Much of the rest of the structure can be renovated instead or replaced. He said the large, colorful stained glass windows on both sides would be cleaned and reset.

The fundraising drive is ongoing with more than 20 special life memberships sold at $150 each, Cederman said. The most expensive selection of membership to the society, the lifetime variety, includes an inscribed brick to be placed around the schoolhouse. Other one-year varieties range from $10 to $50. So far, about $15,000 has been raised, Demler said.

Volunteers are frequently called on to do some of the dirty work that recently filled a dumpster with debris.

Cederman, who can often be heard promoting the society and the project on his weekly radio show on WLVL-AM, said the ultimate dream is to restore the schoolhouse to its original condition -- both interior and exterior -- to use for the society. He has been gathering archival material from across the town to display as part of the project.

"I just collected 22 pieces of farm equipment from the 1800s," he said.

Demler summed up the plan by describing it as "the best possible outcome."

"Is it perfect? No," the supervisor said. "But it's better than the alternatives. We hope to open in late fall. I know that sounds aggressive but I think we can do it."

e-mail: niagaranews@buffnews.com

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