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The Press of Atlantic City, (NJ)
October 12, 2004

Longing to preserve history DEP commissioner agrees former Ohio Avenue School should be saved ... he just doesn't say it will
By JOHN BRAND Staff Writer, (609) 272-7275

ATLANTIC CITY - A simple, one-page letter gave Gwen Goodwin the inspiration she needed to continue her aggressive campaign to save the 104-year-old former Ohio Avenue School from demolition.

Bradley Campbell, commissioner of the state's Department of Environmental Protection, wrote her on behalf of outgoing Gov. James E. McGreevey. She received the letter on Friday.

"(The DEP's) Historic Preservation Office had the opportunity to comment on this project and agrees with your findings that this site is eligible for inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places and should be saved," Campbell said in the letter dated Sept. 30.

Goodwin, however, isn't ready to leave the building's future to the bureaucrats who may or may not protect it, but she is encouraged.

"We're finally making a dent here," she said. "Two thumbs up, baby."

She said she will continue collecting handwritten letters and signatures on a petition and forward them to Gov. James E. McGreevey.

Although Campbell's words were supportive, she also found them suspicious.

His letter, after all, does not say the building will be saved, only that it should be saved, Goodwin pointed out.

"It's a dubious letter," she said. "It's supposed to give the appearance and lead you to think they're going to save the building."

The Board of Education voted in March to sell the school, which opened in 1901 as the city's high school, and the neighboring administrative building for $2.5 million to the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to help cover a $3 million budget deficit.

The CRDA plans to build a temporary parking lot for the Atlantic City Medical Center in place of the two buildings, located at the corner of Ohio and Pacific avenues.

Then, the CRDA says it will give the title to Caesars Entertainment, which wants to build an 896-room hotel tower and 3,000-space parking garage.

The CRDA will turn over the title after a $75 million parking garage is built in a separate part of town.

The district continued using the school last year for the Viking Academy, an alternative high school.

It's also in "relatively good physical condition," according to a report prepared in April by Greenhouse Consultants Inc. on behalf of Caesars Entertainment.

You might think the resort has enough on its plate than to concern itself with the fate of two tired, old buildings.

But they matter to Goodwin.

A preservationist from New York City who single-handedly saved PS 109 in East Harlem from demolition, she believes historic buildings can bridge the gaps between past, present and future.

"What would Rome be today if we knocked it down?" she said.

Ideally, she would like to see The Richard Stockton College of New Jersey take control of the building, renovate it and use it for instruction.

The school's windows are boarded up and a chain-link fence surrounds the building, giving passers-by the impression that the school will meet the same wrecking-ball fate as other old Atlantic City structures.

David DeMarco, a 51-year-old Bally's Atlantic City employee who has walked by the school most days for 25 years, said Monday that the school probably shouldn't be saved.

"It's a shame to see all these old buildings of Atlantic City disappear," he said. "One thing I've learned is that with these old buildings it's so hard to find a modern use for them."

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