The Pulaski Elementary School has been closed for four years, but its halls still have the p…
As a fourth grader, Joe Goodge learned a lesson he’s never forgotten.
Goodge was among the first students to occupy Pulaski Elementary School when it opened on March 28, 1966.
“I remember coming in the first day,” he said. “The building was brand new, and I just remember my teacher, Mrs. Taylor, saying, ‘You guys treat this building with respect, it’s brand new. The school paid a lot of money for it. Take care of it.
“So now I own it, and I’m taking care of it.”
Goodge and his wife, Zenia, purchased the school at auction in 2019, about two years after the Wilmington Area School District closed it because of declining enrollment. Since then, they’ve been transforming the 30,000-square-foot facility and its accompanying 12 acres into the River Valley Community Resource Center.
The property boasts modifiable space that can be used for private party functions, office leases, special events, trade shows, conferences or as a training center. Also, an indoor gymnasium, outdoor ballpark and pavilion are available for rentals.
After being delayed a year by COVID-19, the center held Day One of a three-day grand opening celebration Thursday that included a ribbon-cutting, the unveiling of a mural painted by Kimberly Koller-Jones — executive director of Arts + Education at the Hoyt — and tours and refreshments.
“We purchased it as a business venture,” Goodge said during the opening ceremony, “but secondly, and just as importantly, we purchased it with the thought of trying to grow the community and not see things die out in this area.
“We have had a lot of support from local officials … and the community, too, really wants to see the building thrive. They don’t want to see this building sit empty and deteriorate like we see so many buildings around the area.”
Goodge said he has been asked why he would want to open a business in Pulaski. For starters, he and his family live there — his kids were among the last students to attend the school — and his accounting firm also is in the village.
But there’s more.
“We are two-tenths of a mile from Interstate 376,” he noted.
“The I-80 corridor is right to the north of us, (Route) 422 is just a little to the south. If you drive 15 minutes in any direction from here, you’re going to be in a town.
“So really, we’re kind of in the middle of everything even though we’re in kind of in the middle of nowhere.”
Goodge said there is still a lot of work to be done to complete the former school’s transformation into a resource center, but the facility is already attracting attention. Butler County Community College, he said, is interested in offering classes there, and its first one will take place Aug. 28.
“This last year,” he said, “the gym was occupied from November through March, every weeknight and every Saturday and Sunday, with the exception of maybe a couple of days.
“People like this building, they like to be in it. It’s part of the community.”
Koller-Jones called herself a “silent witness” to the building’s transformation as she was working on the mural.
“Kids were coming in to use the basketball courts,” she said, “Zenia was teaching Ukrainian egg classes, people were coming in to rent this space. I could really see the vision that Joe had shared with me for this space coming to fruition.”
Among those for whom the event served as a homecoming was Diane Bell, who taught 23 years at the school and retired upon its closure. In addition, her husband and children all attended Pulaski Elementary, and she still tends to a butterfly garden behind the school that she created.
“It feels great to come in the building because I’m glad that Joe and Zenia bought it,” Bell said.
“We didn’t want to see what has happened to some other schools happen here. It’s a beautiful building, and now it’s like full circle because I’m going to teach a (one-day) butterfly class here for BC3, and we can use the butterfly garden, so it’s a perfect set-up.”
“It feels good to be back where I was. This was home to me. My white boards are all gone, and there’s not 30 desks in here, but they’ve done a beautiful job with it.”