Friday, May 1, 2009

Correction on St. Sebastian School Building

In my article on the Finance and Government Committee meeting of Wednesday evening, I reported that the city had decided against purchasing the St. Sebastian School building. I gave a little bit of the history of the building, which I based on a history of Middletown available at the Planning and Zoning website, written by B.A. Cleary in 1979. Unfortunately, I got the history of the building wrong, and reported an inaccurate comment about how St. Sebastian acquired the school building.

The Cleary history of Middletown is extremely informative and I highly recommend it for an overview of our city's past, but in this case the information was out of date. Another outstanding history of Middletown was written by Elizabeth Warner (A Pictorial History of Middletown, published by Great Middletown Preservation in 1990). Liz clarified for me the history of the school building on Durant Terrace, which is now occupied by St. Sebastian. The Johnson School, which I said was the Durant Terrace building, is actually on Green Street (where it now houses the eponymous Arts Center), and was an earlier home to St. Sebastian.

Eckersley Hall was built as an elementary school in 1870, to serve the children of the Durant neighborhood, which was the concentration of houses around what is now South Main Street. St. Sebastian school moved into the Eckersley Hall building in the 1980s. Thus, it is the Eckersley Hall School Building, which is on the Middletown Historic Properties List, that the F&G declined to purchase (for $1.3 million) at their meeting on Wednesday evening.

Also in my article on the F&G meeting, I reported the speculation by Councilman Daley that St. Sebastian had bought their current building from the city for $1. Mayor Giuliano addressed this speculation, as well as the history of St. Sebastian School in a comment on a March 27th article in the Middletown Press about the closing of St. Sebastian. Here is all of his comment related to the school building:
No, it is not true that the City sold St. Sebastian School to the Parish for $1.00. St. Sebastian bought the former Johnson School on Green Street in the 1950s for $25,000 (back when this amount of money was actually worth something). In the 1980s, when it became obvious that the Green Street/Ferry Street neighborhood where I attended school during the 1950s and 1960s was declining, the Parish made a trade with the City. We gave them the Green Street property in exchange for the former Eckersley Hall School on Durant Terrace. Since then, the parish has made extensive improvements to the physical plant, including adding a computer lab, air conditioning, a separate annex to house the middle school, playground equipment and audio-visual amenities, among other things. This is value put into the property via the contributions of St. Sebastian's parishioners, not to mention the staggering subsidies they have contributed annually to sustain the school's operations. As I stated, once this year is over, if there is not going to be a combined regional school, the property should be marketed and the sale proceeds put in St. Sebastian's treasury. This way, the parish can repay its debts to the cemetery trust fund (from which it borrowed heavily to sustain the school) and to the Diocese, which underwrote the school's insurance obligations.

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