Tonawanda News

January 16, 2013

A need for space

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Central School in the City of Tonawanda hasn’t been used as a full-time educational facility for more than a decade. But, now in a time of dire need for any funds the district can get, the board is working toward selling the near 30,000 square-foot facility.

But although the property may be able to make the district some money, one local institution, the Historical Society of the Tonawandas, will likely suffer from the move.

The society has been using space inside the structure for its archives free of charge for 35 years, and doesn’t have anywhere to move them to.

As a nonprofit that doesn’t charge entry into the Main Street museum and only obtains funds through membership dues, the society doesn’t have many funds at its disposal. 

“Nothing has been settled,” Historical Society President Patrick Barnard said. “We looked at free storage, which doesn’t exist, and renting storage is too expensive for us.”

Items held in the basement of Central School, located at 80 Clinton St., include anything the society owns that’s not currently part of an exhibit, including a clothing collection from the War of 1812, 1950s clothing, including a designer gown from Paris, paper records, hand bound editions of the Tonawanda News, old restaurant menus and military uniforms, including one belonging to Col. Lewis S. Payne. 

“If it’s from the two cities, we keep it,” Barnard said.

Barnard estimates he needs between 3,000 and 5,000 square feet of climate-controlled space for the archives. The museum at Main Street is already full with material and only encompasses about 1,200 square feet.

The board is considering building a permanent structure in North Tonawanda so they wouldn’t have to pay rent, but either way, the society will take on many extra costs, including insurance and utility expenses. 

“We can handle what we have to pay for now,” Barnard said. “It’s a major concern we have — what do we do with this?”

All renters and materials were scheduled to be out of the school by Jan. 1, but the board has let the historical society keep its archives in the building past the deadline. 

Board President Jackie Smilinich said the board will have to discuss the next step with the historical society, as a possible sale looms. 

The board approved realtor Robert Liebeck, of M.J. Peterson, as the man for the job at their Dec. 11 meeting. The decision came after Liebeck and other realtor, David Supon, of Hunt Real estate, presented proposals to the board in November.

Liebeck said a for sale sign was posted on the property last week, and is listed at the price of $325,000 — the same price Highland School, now owned by S. Spoth, LLC, is currently listed at. 

“We just put the finishing touches on the brochure and are getting marketing going,” Liebeck said. “We have had a couple of parties interested, but no offers at this time.”

During his November presentation, Liebeck expressed concern that the building isn’t big enough for low-income or senior housing.

“There are buyers out there,” Liebeck said in November. “But it won’t sell for the assessed value.”

The school board is hoping the sale of Central sees more success than the district’s 2011 sale of Highland School, which went to auction and sold for $152,000, much less than its original list price. Highland still stands vacant, and board members have called the process a failure. 

Liebeck is hoping his endeavor has better results. 

“We are looking for a user to give the building a new life,” he said. “We are optimistic we will see an offer soon.” 

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150