The first time it summoned students to Bethel High School, Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House.
The original school bell returned to the site, now the Schoolhouse Arts and History Center, in time for the Bethel Park Historical Society’s third annual open house.
“We had it blasted down to actually the way it looked in 1905, when it was installed in the building,” Tim Moury, historical society president, said during the Oct. 13 event. “And if all goes as planned, that will be back up in the cupola on the roof, hopefully by the time that the building is complete.”
The historical society has been working on renovating the long-ago high school, and members of the community were invited to learn about the substantial amount of progress that has been made on the project in the past three years.
Among the guests were Bethel Park High School graduates who participated in the ceremonial first ringing of the bell: Nicholas Centofani, Class of 1952; Barbara Haberthur, 1954; Donald Haberthur, 1954; Norreen Modery, 1962; Mary Pat Roberts, 1954; Lorraine Rowan, 1954.
Joining them was Bill Haberthur, historical society secretary, son of Barbara and nephew of Donald. He also is a member of the Class of ’78, which raised money to relocate the bell to the high school’s current location on Church Road.
Haberthur told those attending the open house that more than $700,000 has been raised toward the renovation since 2016, when efforts started in earnest.
“On the interior, we’ve renovated 95% of the first floor, 50% of the second floor, 25% of the basement, and work has started on the boys and girls bathroom, which will now become our ladies and men’s room,” he said.
Work also has begun on the building’s roof, and other improvements in the past year include replacing 60% of exterior doors and reconstructing the steps to the front entrance, on the South Park Road side of the building, where Haberthur and others spoke during the open house.
“Most importantly, several months ago we added a handicap ramp off the back, which has allowed greater accessibility into the building,” he said.
With the renovation has come more opportunities for the building’s use, including rental for events and exhibits featuring local military and mining history, along with other Bethel Park-related memorabilia. The Senator John Heinz History Center is providing an intern to help catalog and categorize the collection.
“We’re always looking for things,” Haberthur said. “So as you’re cleaning out your closet, please keep us in mind.”
Moury, a 1980 Bethel Park High School graduate who also is president of Bethel Park Council, acknowledged the substantial impact that volunteers have had in moving the project forward. Work parties take place from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays, and 8 a.m. to noon Saturdays.
“So if you’re looking for something to do, please stop by,” Moury said. “I am certain we will find something for you.”
The Schoolhouse Arts and History Center houses a satellite office for state Rep. Natalie Mihalek, R-Upper St. Clair, from 10 a.m. to noon every third Monday of the month.
“This is my favorite building, and it was by no accident that I have my office hours here,” she said during the open house. “I wanted to invite the community in, because I’ve talked to so many people out there who have never been inside the schoolhouse, and I just thought, what a shame. It’s so beautiful.
“The progress they’ve been able to make just even in the last two or three years has been amazing,” Mihalek continued. “And it really is a testament to the volunteers.”
Allegheny County Council member Sue Means, who attended sixth grade in the building, agreed.
“That’s what Bethel Park is, a great place to live, where neighbors help neighbors.”