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Some of the members of the Save our School committee on the front steps of the restored schoolhouse in Star Lake. Photo: Todd Moe
Some of the members of the Save our School committee on the front steps of the restored schoolhouse in Star Lake. Photo: Todd Moe

A new assignment for an old schoolhouse

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The old public school building in Star Lake has a new mission as an exhibit center and tourist attraction. And the grassroots effort to restore the 1890s structure will be honored by Adirondack Architectural Heritage at a ceremony in Lake George next week. It's one of six North Country sites that will receive 2012 Stewardship awards for preservation efforts.

For more than six years, a group of Clifton-Fine area residents has worked to restore the old school. They see it as a cornerstone for tourism, economic development and local pride.

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A photo of the Star Lake school house<br />from the 1890's.

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Todd Moe
Morning Host and Producer

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For the last few summers, the old school in Star Lake, now known as the Adirondack Exhibit Center, has been in full operation, hosting art shows, workshops, photo exhibits, a rustic furniture fair, class reunions, and a permanent model train display.

“George Piercen is president of “Save Our School.” It’s a committee of the Clifton-Fine Economic Development Corporation. The building is owned by the town of Fine and leased by the group. For more than 6 years, the committee has raised money, and put sweat equity into restoring the building.”

“We started to worry about this building being razed to become a parking lot for some other things. And since it was our last great building in the area, we thought perhaps we could save it. It had been used as a schoolhouse; it has been used as a courthouse; it has been used by the Board of Directors for voting; and it had been used by the local kids for a skating rink that we had next store, which has been moved on.

“We’ve rebuilt the bathrooms, we’ve rebuilt the ceilings (taken them out), reinsulated it, rewired the whole thing up to code. You’ll notice that we do have Exit signs and we have fire alarms. And we have all the doors are width enough for wheelchairs or handicap access. So even though it’s an old building, it meets all the modern code requirement. And now we have a place for exhibits. And we call it an exhibit center, not a museum; and the reason for that is we’re looking ahead, and looking at the present, not just the past,” explained one member of the “Save our School” committee.

Some of the other committee members around the table include Vice President Joe Ruso, Exhibits chairman Phil Chandler, and secretary Joan Leffert. Leffert grew up in Star Lake and attended the school, along with about 50 other students in grades 1st through 8th. Her mother was one of the teachers.

“[T]hey brought it back to what it was originally. It had been sheet-rocked in here and different floor and they brought it right back to what it was to begin with. Yeah. I give them a lot of credit. They really saved one of our old historical buildings. I’m just so pleased that they took the ball and ran with it and saved the building, because it was going to be torn down. And so it’s really something very special to see that it’s here and it’s going to go on, and be used,” said Leffert.

The “Save our School” committee wants to use the exhibit center in numerous ways. “It’s really amazing how much is available when people want to give, and fortunately we haven’t had any bureaucrats stand in front of the window and say, ‘You have a beautiful view. Therefore you can’t see it, we’re in the way.’ We’ve just done it,” one member said.

All the money used in the project was raised from individual contributions; none of the money came from public grants.

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