Bethel Park celebrates grand opening of Schoolhouse Arts and History Center
As far as the familiar red brick structure at South Park Road and Park Avenue, Sue Means was there for the end of one era and the beginning of another.
“I did attend this building, in sixth grade,” the lifelong Bethel Park resident and member of Allegheny County Council said. “I was part of the bumper crop after World War II, and there were just too many sixth-grade classrooms throughout the municipality. So I had the honor to go to school here.
She also had the honor of joining fellow elected officials and members of the community for the Oct. 8 grand opening of the building as the Schoolhouse Arts and History Center.
Means’ time as a student came when the building was wrapping up life as an educational facility.
“Up until the 1960s, it was used as a grade school, until the school district decided it was a white elephant and they no longer needed it,” Bill Haberthur, secretary of the Bethel Park Historical Society’s board, said. “So they began to use it as a storage facility for unused desks and other items.”
He provided a history lesson during the grand opening, telling of the building’s construction as a high school in 1905, expansion as a vocational school in 1917 and switch to an elementary school in 1934. In the 1970s, a petition drive saved it from demolition, and Bethel Park School District sold it to the historical society for $1 in 1996.
While renting space since then in what had been known as the Schoolhouse Arts Center, the society started a capital campaign in 2016 to provide much-needed renovations. Since then, volunteers, donors and supporters have stepped up to help give the building a thorough makeover.
“For the past year, they’ve spent a lot of time and work and hard hours trying to get the building to where it is today,” Tim Moury, the society’s board president, said. “We’re not finished. We’re only part of the way there. But I think what we have is truly a diamond in the rough.”
Moury, who also is president of Bethel Park Council, acknowledged Haberthur and Susie Dolinar, the society board treasurer, for their efforts on behalf of the project.
“I don’t always like to single people out, but they certainly are the people who have been going out there doing the work,” he said. “They’ve been a great asset.”
Moury, in turn, drew praise from Means:
“Tim is a force to contend with, and he is really one of the driving forces around saving this building.”
She presented acknowledgements from county council both in recognition of the Schoolhouse Arts and History Center and also of the 90th anniversary founding of the Bethel Park Volunteer Fire Company by 11 civic-minded residents.
State Reps. John Maher, R-Upper St. Clair, and Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth, also were on hand to present recognitions for both entities from the House. Similar measures came from the state Senate by way of Guy Reschenthaler, R-Jefferson Hills.
The center’s grand opening culminated with a long-anticipated event.
“Twenty-seven years ago, this building was actually designated as an historic landmark by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation,” Haberthur explained. “But the plaque was never purchased.”
That situation has been rectified, and he pulled off the covering to unveil the new bronze marker next to the building’s restored front steps.
“As we proceed, we will be doing many more fundraisers,” he said. “We just hope that the community, who’s really rallied around this project, continues to support us in all of our efforts.”