Back to School, With a Vengeance

(Goshen Elementary School, built: 1959
Look! It has a flagpole!!!! Hoist the Jolly Roger!)

When we moved to Pennsylvania, one of the hardest things to give up about our house in Maryland was my beautiful perfectly appointed darkroom and my spacious basement studio. Between 2002 and 2006 all my darkroom gear has been stored in various basements, boxes, and out-of-the-way places, waiting for a chance to get cleaned up, set up, and put back in use.

Since we moved up I've been constantly trying to think of what could be refitted as a darkroom/studio - with not a lot of luck. So I started investigating renting a storefront in Philipsburg, or office space in Clearfield. I considered building a small cottage in the back woods, or buying an old trailer and retrofitting it as a mobile darkroom. Everything had its plusses and minusses but nothing really seemed right. Finally, someone suggested I take a look at the old county schoolhouse, which has been sitting empty ("for sale") for several years. It turned out that the property was being sold with another parcel, and the seller was amenable to breaking the transaction apart and selling me just the schoolhouse. For someone who lived in Maryland for 20+ years, the cost of real estate up here is just ridiculously low - it was actually half as expensive to buy the schoohouse outright as it would have been to rent a small office space in town.

As of April, 09 2006: I have a signed contract on the place, and hope to go to closing within a month.

You can call me "Principal" Ranum.

The schoolhouse has a large basement that doubles as a bomb shelter (1950's architecture!) and a huge commercial well pump and septic system. It's on about 9 acres and has a large parking lot, an outdoor basketball court, and a tennis court.

Upstairs there is a large hallway that crosses in a T at the front door, with a kitchen and 2 large bathrooms (boys and girls) on the right in the front, and a commercial kitchen on the right in the back.

Does anyone want a commercial oven/griddle? They weigh so much I am not sure how I am going to get rid of them but if I can get a few hundred bucks for them they're gone. There's also a commercial Hobart meat slicer - I suppose it'd be cool if I ever need to get rid of a body or something but otherwise I'm not sure what to do with it.

Very cool cutting board table thing and automatic dishwasher, stainless steel sinks and commercial refridgerator come included. I am not sure if I will be able to disassemble the stainless sinks but they'd be the coolest darkroom sinks on earth if I can figure out how to retrofit them.

The boys and girls bathroom are slated to become the wet and dry darkrooms, respectively. Since they only have a single small window, and are already plumbed for sinks and commodes they ought to be perfect. The bathroom walls and floors are already completely tiled!! It's as if the place was made to become a darkroom!

(Main hallway; large opening to the left is to the front doors. Doors on the
left are the boys and girls' darkroom, uh, bathrooms)

The main hallway is frightening baby shit 1950's green. Considering how much paint it would take to repaint the place there is a very good chance it will stay that color indefinitely.

(The main dining hall occupies most of the back of the school. It is huge and
will make a wonderful studio. The whole back is glassed in and right now it's
full of chairs and stuff. Storage cabinets line all the walls, and there is a large
wooden dias on one side of the room. The only way this would make a better
studio was if the ceilings were 10 feet higher.)

There are 3 main rooms: 2 classrooms, both huge, and a large dining/assembly room. My plan is to use the dining room as a studio, one of the classrooms as a woodshop/workshop/laboratory of evil, and the other classroom will be left open for short-term projects that need space.

There is also a nurse's office (lots of cabinets!) and a principal's office (book shelves!) and a bathroom for the faculty.

(View from the side, each of the angled rooms is one of the classrooms.
They are gigantic and, obviously, well-lit)

Once all the paperwork is done and I've closed on the place, I will post periodic updates of the work in progress.

Update #1, June 2006

I'm now the owner of the schoolhouse (yay!) and have been cleaning the place out and moving my own junk in. It is simply amazing how much junk a place this size can absorb! I have an entire 10 foot x 10 foot walk-in closet with floor-to-ceiling shelves entirely devoted to old computer parts and "technical stuff" like cables, old software, etc. One shelf, of 30, is full. I figure that I can live another 30 years and never have to throw anything away ever again! When I die, someone's gonna have one heck of a yard sale ("Hey, look a copy of Photoshop from back when people still ran Microsoft Windows! This belongs in a museum! And, look, a 10GB hard drive! How cute! Hahahahaha!")

Things got extremely weird when we closed on the place. The seller's agent apparently lost her mind and thought she could get away with looting the place! So while I was over signing the paper-work she was over at the school with a friend and a pickup truck, loading up the meat slicer, a tree stand, some collapsible beds, a clay pigeon-thrower and a bunch of other stuff. It looks like she tried to take the lawn mower but it was too heavy. I was completely amazed when I opened the place up and noticed stuff was missing. Immediately, I called my agent, who called the seller's agent, who said, "the seller told me I could have a few things." So, of course, my next call was to the seller, and the agent's boss, and the broker who owned the real estate agency. Surprise, surprise, all my stuff was waiting for me on the front step when I got there the next day. Amazingly, the agent wasn't fired; she must be related to the boss or something.

Flyaround movie of the main dining room; stuff still in it.
Anyone want a schoolkid's desk, size 3rd grade?

I'm going to work on the place slowly; I have one of the classrooms all cleaned out, with the floors mopped and polished, and all my photo studio gear in it. Amazingly, there's still loads of empty shelf-space in the room, and it's not even a little bit cramped. Paradise! I've been setting up the library as an office, and managed to find a 1950's vintage office desk at a local yard sale; so I will see if I can give the office a properly retro look.

Bellwether Farm, Morrisdale Pennsylvania. Apr 09, 2006 +