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Group hopes to save Cohanzie School in Waterford

Waterford - Pointing to a faded, torn picture of her father on the steps of Cohanzie Elementary School in the late 1920s, Kathleen Reagan addressed a group of people on Tuesday that she hopes will help save the school from eventual demolition.

More than 20 people gathered in the town's library for Reagan's first meeting of Save Our Cohanzie School.

The school was closed in 2008 and has sat vacant since.

Repurposing the original 1923 portion of the Cohanzie school building - with its neo-classical style, brick facade and granite foundation - is the main goal of the group, she said.

Reagan encouraged those in attendance to speak up at the next Board of Selectmen meeting, at 5 p.m. May 7.

"Be the voice of Cohanzie, just being there says to the town that you care about this," she told the group. "With the point that it's at now, there's a sign on the door that it's going to be demolished, if something or someone does not intervene."

An application for demolition notice was recently posted on the front door of the school building. In accordance with the town's delay of demolition ordinance, there is now a 60-day period during which a developer or group can come forward with feasible plans for reuse of the building that could save it from demolition.

"The bricks are in good shape and are valuable. They've stood the test of time. The structure should still be intact, and I've been told the roof does not leak," Reagan said. "The foundation is sound because it's on granite. Although the interior has definite problems, it's the building that matters. Let's save it."

A heartwarming moment came near the end of the meeting when Reagan asked a woman speaking to identify herself.

"I'm Jean Rowley, but you may remember me as Mrs. Childs," the white-haired woman said.

Twin sisters Lisa Mei Traystman and Lynn Mei Arcarese whipped around in their seats.

"Mrs. Childs!" they shrieked. They extended their hands out to their former third-grade teacher, whom they said they hadn't seen since 1969.

Arcarese pointed to a picture Reagan had attached to a poster board. In it, she identified her brother.

"I'm going to contact a lot of our grammar school classmates. There is strength in numbers," Arcarese said about saving the building. "The next meeting will be very different."

"I would love to see the building stay. It would be beautiful as an arts center or a youth center. Can't you see people out there on the hill with easels?" Traystman said.

After the meeting, Reagan took a picture with the former third-grade elementary teacher, whom she called a "local celebrity."

Rowley, a teacher at Cohanzie for 38 years and a former student of the same school, said she will wait on Reagan for direction.

"I don't have a computer, but I can make calls and write," Rowley said. "I feel very strongly about keeping the school. They (the town) could have done a lot with the old part of the school for the money they've spent on the new schools."

Reagan said she plans to hold the next meeting of Save Our Cohanzie School within the next three weeks.


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