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Razing Cohanize would be a mistake

By KATHLEEN REAGAN

Publication: The Day

Published 06/01/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 05/31/2013 04:59 PM

Waterford is about to lose a historic structure, the 1923 neo-classical revival-style Cohanzie school, which followed Waterford's one-room schoolhouse model, in place since the town's inception. The Cohanzie district dates to between the years 1790 and 1820. Its historic status is unquestionable.

Cohanzie is another "loser" in the battle of the schools that has long gone on in Waterford. If nothing changes, Cohanzie school will be torn down in a matter of weeks. The building has been vacant for five years, following the decision of some to redistrict elementary students in Waterford. Though a referendum vote backed keeping the schools, they were closed nonetheless. The result is that a building that has stood as the "silent sentinel" in a neighborhood of farms, now homes, is about to be destroyed. Along with a field and firehouse, it is Cohanzie.

The Cohanzie school was built in 1923 by architect Louis A. Goddard. It is an unusual architectural style. A 2010 assessment of historic value by the state historic preservation office resulted in Cohanzie school's assignment to the state historic register. In 2010 the school was found to be a fine example of its style and solid, still capable of serving as a municipal building. Built to last, standing on a foundation of an historic granite quarry, it would likely outlast more contemporary structures. It withstood many a storm since 1923, including the 1938 hurricane that decimated our area.

Cohanzie school was recently toured by a preservation expert with the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, who found it in good condition. He stated, "There is nothing present in its exterior or interior that would prevent its reuse" by the community and town. Town leaders who want to raze the building point to asbestos, air-quality issues, and buried oil tanks as to why it must go, but the preservation people stated developers have successfully renovated many old schools with these factors present.

The State Historic Preservation Office and the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation are ready to work with the town to identify a viable repurpose for Cohanzie school. Given this recent offer by the state, what reason can Waterford find for doggedly remaining on the trajectory for demolition? Because it's "late in the game" is insufficient reason. We can surely identify a good purpose for this building. The state has suggested some possible new uses for consideration, such as housing emergency management, park and recreation, or an arts related endeavor for the community. That land, used by the public for generations, ought to remain in the hands of the public who have grown so accustomed to its beautiful sloping hills and fields. What a wonderful park it would make! Having no parks on this side of town, the people would make good use of it - perhaps with the addition of benches for seating and a winding trail for walking or jogging.

Do we really wish to be a town only of huge malls and modern houses?

The community group "Save our Cohanzie School" is asking the public to attend the Representative Town Meeting on Monday, 7 p.m., Town Hall. If you attend, note that you are standing in a repurposed school building, built as the "sister" building to Cohanzie, by the same architect and builder.

Kathleen Reagan is head of the group, Save our Cohanzie School. She lives in Waterford.

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