Fifteen years ago, Collingswood borough commissioner Joan Leonard said, the “Old” Zane School on Haddon Avenue was a rotten dump with a caved-in roof that doubled as a pigeon roost.
“The building was literally falling down,” Leonard told the public at Monday’s commissioners meeting. “It was frightening.”
Leonard, who lives across the street from the property, speaks of what she knows. Such a historic building (it dates back to 1905) deserved a better fate.
So Leonard was among those most excited when the borough announced that it had come to terms with the current tenants of the building, the architectural firm Kitchen & Associates, to sell the property she'd helped restore 15 years ago.
In addition to the $800,000 asking price, Kitchen & Associates also formed a 10-year PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreement with the borough that will bring in approximately $8,000 annually for the next decade, said Collingswood Mayor James Maley.
“In 1998 we raised the money to renovate the Zane School,” Maley said. “This purchase by Kitchen leaves us at just about $150,000 below what we had originally started at.”
Maley said the borough would recoup that investment by the end of the calendar year by getting the property off its books, and argued that “financially, in my opinion, we’re way ahead” thanks to years of Kitchen & Associates employees patronizing borough businesses.
“It’s really a model of what the whole point of redevelopment is,” Maley said. “Another 10 years, it will be back on the tax rolls.”
Maley invoked the marketing campaign the borough rolled out during the renovation of the property—“building our future by restoring our past”—in describing the success of the arrangement with Kitchen and Associates.
“It’s worked out that way,” he said.
The school has become "a community focal point for activity," Maley said, and part of the agreement with Kitchen & Associates preserves borough use of the front steps of the building for community gatherings, near the iconic downtown clock, “and the parking lot will be an extension of our public parking when it’s not in use.”
“It’s what had always been intended from when we started,” said Steve Schoch, the managing principal partner of Kitchen & Associates.
“Being part of the civic life, we’re there; we’re sponsoring various things,” Schoch said, pointing out that his firm designed the Collingswood Community Center, among other projects in town.
“I live three blocks away, so my commute is quite good,” he laughed.
Like the other upcoming redevelopment projects throughout the borough, including the LumberYard and forthcoming doctor’s office near Route 130, as well as similar transit-related developments in Haddon Township, the restoration of the Zane School is best understood in terms of “the big picture,” Schoch said.
“It’s not one project, it’s not one thing,” he said, “but one successful project and another will stabilize not just one town, but a whole region.”