NEWARK -- City officials are considering whether to demolish a 129-year-old schoolhouse, even though it is one of Newark's few buildings to be designated a historical resource.
The proposed demolition of Mowry's Landing School, which was built in 1884, would save tax dollars but anger local preservationists.
Newark would like to save the one-room building, but restoring it might cost as much as $850,000, said Ray Collier, Newark's chief building official. "Our first choice is to sell it or give it to a nonprofit, but we haven't been able to do that," he said. "Restoring it will cost a lot, and we have no practical use."
While the City Council considers those options, its members voted unanimously last week to pay for part of an environmental impact report that will study the effects of getting rid of it. Newark will share the report's costs with the East Bay Regional Park District, which has housed the 19th-century school room at Ardenwood Historic Farm in Fremont. The single-story, wood-frame structure -- which is 26 feet by 42 feet, with a rectangular shape -- was built near what is now NewPark Mall.
Park district officials moved the schoolhouse to Ardenwood in 1984, when they planned to renovate it and the Brown and Bettencourt homes, two Fremont houses built in the 19th century. They then aimed to convert the buildings into an education center, where visitors could participate in a ranch setting and experience what life was like as a pioneer, said Raphael Breines, a park district official.
Those plans never came to fruition because of rising renovation estimates, and the historic homes sat dormant for years, slowly decaying. "It was a nice vision, but it was too costly to renovate the buildings," Breines said.
The park district will spend $20,000 (while Newark spends an additional $10,000) on an environmental impact report, which will help officials decide whether to demolish the three historic homes. The report is expected to be completed by early fall, Breines said.
Newark, which owns the schoolhouse, also is considering moving it to a location in the city, though officials worry it might be a nuisance and a liability.
Al Minard, a Fremont preservationist and historian, said the structure should be saved because it has a lot of historic significance. "It's important to preserve our history so that future generations know what it was like to go to school in Newark 150 years ago," he said.
Minard is a former member of Fremont's Historical Architectural Review Board, a panel that advises the Fremont City Council on preserving buildings with historic merit. Newark does not have such a board, leaving those decisions to its Planning Commission.
"The problem with that is that the Planning Commission is a steppingstone to the City Council," he said. "So, people make political decisions rather than smart decisions."
Mayor Al Nagy said that Newark doesn't have a counterpart to Fremont's historical review board because the demand isn't there. "There's not a lot of activity for Newark in that area," he said. "I think we'd be searching for the committee to find things to do."
Despite that, Nagy said the city has been working with local groups to honor its history, such as placing a plaque on the Rose of Sharon Church, one of Newark's historical resources.
Nagy said he would support any person or organization willing to raise funds to save the schoolhouse. "But you're talking about a lot of money," he said. "That kind of money is not just sitting around, waiting to be spent on projects like that. Even with grants, it's awfully difficult in today's economic environment."
Contact Chris De Benedetti at 510-353-7011. Follow him at Twitter.com/cdebenedetti.