Former elementary school could face abatement, sale, demolition

Cole Skuse, Business Manager/ Copy Editor/ News Editor

To about half of the student body at Freedom Area High School, Big Knob Elementary was their daily workplace for five years. The current freshmen were the last class to have a class split between Big Knob and Conway Elementary School for all five years of elementary school. Since then, Freedom Area Elementary School has opened on the main campus and Conway Elementary has been sold. But what about Big Knob?
One of the main reasons for the new elementary school was the repair that was needed to Big Knob. As the building is located in New Sewickley, all of the building’s water came from four to five water wells and sewage was treated on property. In addition, the building was in need of general repairs and electrical updates. Through the consolidation of all students and staff into one building, Big Knob now sits vacant, except for a few storage items. Maintenance staff regularly visit the building for status reports and the grass is mowed every two weeks.
“As computers started to get used more, there were times when teachers had to decide whether they were going to run the lights and fans in their rooms or the computers; the electrical system just couldn’t back it up,” Superintendent Jeffrey Fuller said.
Following the reports from Director of Buildings and Grounds Gary Mortimer, Fuller asked that Mortimer would look into the future of what the district could do with Big Knob. At the Sept. 19 School Board meeting, Mortimer gave estimates for two actions to the school board: asbestos abatement and demolition. Abatement would cost over $300,000 and demolition would cost close to $300,000. Both would be done by the same company. He was going to contact the district’s current asbestos reports for an additional estimate. If the board chooses to go through with these processes, then bidding will have to occur. These prices are just ball-park estimates, currently.
What has caused the building to reach this state? Like other vacant buildings, the lack of a full-time maintenance staff has caused the building to fall into disrepair, as one would expect. Why has the district held onto the property for so long?
“It’s a good asset for the district to have. We have an oil lease that pays a monthly royalty on the property,” Fuller said. “If the township were to put in municipal services, the property value would increase significantly and it would be an even bigger asset. Right now, the cost of ownership had been pretty minimal.”
When the building was first closed, New Sewickley entered negotiations with the school district regarding the purchase of Big Knob. At the time, the value of the building was around $368,000, according to Fuller. After going back and forth, the offers from both sides were rejected and the negotiations stalemated.
Some recent incidents at the Big Knob building have brought up concerns of whether or not the school district wants to continue the ownership of the building. Prior to the Aug. 15 School Board Meeting, some windows had been broken at the vacant school, which had to be covered up with plywood. In addition, leaks have created problems with open air asbestos. This has made sections of the school dangerous for health-related reasons.
“[Vandalism] is always a concern,” Fuller said. “We’ve had a couple of incidents where we’ve had some windows broken. It doesn’t seem that anyone gained access to the building since there was no internal vandalism.”
One of the rear doors to Big Knob has its entire front shattered, replaced with a piece of plywood. There is broken glass on both sides of the door, which indicates the door had probably been smashed. On that door, and others around the building, there are bright pink signs that state “ASBESTOS NO ENTRY,” warning people away from the building.
Since the building had been open for quite a long time, there were many classes of students who had attended Big Knob. For some, seeing the demolition of their former elementary school could bring a tear to their eye. However, due to the water damage and asbestos, the building would need completely redone.
Moving forward, the school board will discuss the options for Big Knob while taking into account the situation the building is currently in.

Pull Out Quote:
“As computers started to get used more, there were times when teachers had to decide whether they were going to run the lights and fans in their rooms or the computers; the electrical system just couldn’t back it up.” – Superintendent Jeffery Fuller