RARITAN TWP., NJ – Even the biggest fans and supporters of the Oak Grove School Restoration Project concede that the effort has been “somewhat moribund.”
But the work to restore the school built in 1834 has recently received an injection of energy and newfound enthusiasm.
Hunterdon County Polytech has committed to much of the actual renovation work on the structure. Charles Lachner, who is the head of the school’s Construction Technology Department, is leading the students and work is underway.
The schoolhouse is just off Route 31 in front of Lowe’s.
The school has an interesting history. When it was new, it was considered a modern improvement over the even-older building that it replaced on the site. It remained in operation until the late-1940s, and then became a press office for the Hunterdon County Fairgrounds.
It was acquired by the Raritan Town Square developer when it bought the former Flemington Fairgrounds, which is where Lowe’s and Walmart are now. When construction began at Raritan Town Square, the school was converted for use as the developer’s construction office.
But as part of the approvals for Lowe’s, the Planning Board required it be restored for historic and educational purposes.
Now, the school has been selected by Lowe's for its "Lowe's Heroes Program," a community focused project that supports volunteer efforts.
Lowe's has committed $5,000 in construction material towards the restoration effort. In addition, Lowe's has given the volunteers the professional services of the store’s construction personnel team. Those are people who work in the trades.
They “can make a real difference towards the proper completion of this project,” said Pete Kinsella, a former Township Committeeman who is now Chairman of the Township’s Local Historians Committee.
Kinsella is a long-time electrical contractor, so he knows what he is talking about.
“This will finally be a structure that Township residents can actually be proud of,” Kinsella said, “and will be put to good use as a museum/meeting place for Township functions … Oak Grove School is actually gaining some visual respectability, a long overdue occurrence.”
Lachner and his Polytech students from all over Hunterdon are now re-siding the old Schoolhouse.
“The results are impressive,” Kinsella said. “This will finally be a structure that Township residents can actually be proud of.”
He said that next year the school – which was also known as “School #10” – will take its place as a living piece of Township history.
This isn’t the first time that Lowe’s has offered help where it was needed. The store also helped re-purpose Flemington’s popular Filling Station, helping transform it from a long-time eyesore into a warm weather hotspot for food, beer and family fun.