Demolition work is underway inside an empty Tarentum building its backers hope will become a community center and a catalyst for economic renewal in the borough.
The work at what will will be called “The Depot” involves gutting the interior of the Fifth Avenue building, which previously housed a ceramics business, ready it for redevelopment.
That will include removing the wall paneling and tin ceiling, removing a partial mezzanine floor and — most notably — emptying the basement of thousands upon thousands of molds that had been used to make the ceramics that had been sold there.
“It is the first real work on the project with contractors paid to work on the building,” said David Rankin, an elder at Central Presbyterian Church who launched the nonprofit Faith Community Partners in 2015, the same year he bought the building. “It’s a necessary step. It will be good to get this behind us and move forward.”
Rankin said they tried for three years to sell the molds, which date to the 1960s.
While the finished ceramics leftover in the building were sold, Rankin said they could not find anyone interested in taking large quantities of the molds. While some expressed interest in a few of them, Rankin said there were just too many to sell that way.
“It was impossible to try to meet those kind of needs,” he said, noting that they were not labeled.
Crews with American Architectural Salvage, part of Westmoreland Community Action, are working on the demolition.
Westmoreland Community Action chief executive officer Tay Waltenbaugh heads Keystone Hope Development, which was founded in 2016 and came on as the project’s developer and will oversee construction.
To remove the molds from the basement, crews cut a hole in the first floor and installed a lift.
The molds have been piled outside against the side of the building. They are destined to become clean fill, Rankin said.
The work started Dec. 11, and is expected to run into mid-January, said Rick Mills, a demolition manager with American Architectural Salvage.
What will happen next depends on funding, Rankin said. They are awaiting word on a $70,000 state grant that would pay half the cost of a new roof and a stormwater removal solution.
Getting that grant money will open the doors to more, Rankin said.
“We’re not going to start anything else until we have funding in place,” he said.
The Depot is expected to house a laundromat, coffee shop and rooms for community service organizations. A courtyard will be in an empty lot alongside the building, where the new entry will be.
While he previously hoped to be in the finished building in the fourth quarter of 2019, Rankin isn’t sure if that estimate is still accurate. “It will depend on funding,” he said.
The ceramics shop, Joan’s Kiln Korner & Gifts, had been started by Tarentum Councilwoman Carrie Fox’s aunt, Joan Golgan. Her mother and father, Barbara Magnetta and late former Tarentum Mayor Carl Magnetta, took it over after her death from cancer in 1984.
Fox said she started helping her aunt at the shop when she was just 8 years old. Seeing the molds piled against the building was emotional for her.
“I grew up there. My children grew up there,” she said. “It just brings back a lot of memories. It’s sad to see them that way.”
Fox said her father had once estimated there were 70,00- to-80,000 molds in the basement. Golgan had started the business and began accumulating molds at her home before ultimately moving into that building.
“That whole basement, it was filled from top to bottom,” she said. “No one could believe it until they went downstairs and looked.”
While she got rid of molds that were no longer usable, she otherwise didn’t get rid of old molds because she was a supplier and people would come to her, Fox said.
While many of the molds are now broken or no longer complete, Fox said she looked through the pile and grabbed a few for Easter eggs, which she can make with the kiln at her home.
“It’s nice to see something happening (with the building),” Fox said. “I’m happy to see it. You want to see that come to life. He’s had the plan for quite some time. It’s really nice to see it come true.”
Brian Rittmeyer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Brian at 724-226-4701, [email protected] or via Twitter @BCRittmeyer.