Building a connection

The oldest standing school building in the state was purchased with the intent of revitalizing it as a school and community center.

History 101: Lower Dublin Academy, at 3322 Willits Road, was recently purchased by the Albanian-American Social-Cultural Organization with plans to reinvent it into a school and cultural center. The original Thomas Holme schoolhouse had a lifespan of 1723 to 1938. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTO

Lower Dublin Academy, the oldest standing school building in the state, has a new purpose.

The building was recently purchased by the Albanian-American Social-Cultural Organization with plans to reinvent it into a school and cultural center. AASCO has expressed intent to honor the building’s rich history while using it to forward their own growing organization.

Located at 3322 Willits Road, the first school in Lower Dublin Township had a phenomenal lifespan of 1723 to 1938. The original Thomas Holme schoolhouse, it earned a historical nomination from local historian Joseph Menkevich.

“The building and the land provide us space to grow and expand our organization, and hopefully the services we offer the community,” said Tajar Domi, of the organization, over email.

Saving the building was initially an endeavor of the King’s Highway Trust Foundation, which had hopes to convert the old building into a Northeast Philadelphia-centric museum. Domi said AASCO was attracted to the building because of its appearance.

“Ironically, the building is very similar in materials, design and construct to the first school to teach the Albanian language to both boys and girls located in Korce, Albania,” Domi said. “We immediately felt an emotional connection between our new country and our old country when seeing the building for the first time.”

AASCO is a cultural organization that hopes to provide a bridge between America and Albania. The group hosts lectures, showcases artists, and has musical and dancing demonstrations along with other things to celebrate Albanian culture.

Domi said the school they envision will help students and parents maintain their connection to Albania by hosting history lectures and tours, art installations and other events for the community. They want to focus not just on Albania but Philadelphia as well.

“We want to work with local community organizations to be an asset to the neighborhood,” Domi said.

The group has a big task ahead of it with renovating and revitalizing the building. Domi said the group has met with representatives of local organizations such as the Lower Dublin Academy Trustees, KHTF and the Upper Holmesburg Civic Association.

A cultural connection: Lower Dublin Academy was purchased by the Albanian-American Social-Cultural Organization, an association that hopes to provide a bridge between America and Albania cultures through lectures, art installations and musical and dancing demonstrations. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTO

A timeline of the building’s revitalization is still in the works, but Domi said he hopes to have classes started by next fall. Their immediate goal is to secure the roof and windows before winter to prevent further structural damage.

“We were and are very sensitive to the issue of preservation and our goal of architectural restoration at the academy has been to make the building as authentic as possible, to preserve all historic fabric and avoid any unnecessary intrusions,” Domi said.

Jason Sherman, of KHTF, previously talked to the Times about his hopes to secure the building in his foundation’s name.

“Spreading awareness to the historical significance of [the building] while filming The King’s Highway documentary and being a co-nominator on the historic nomination helped position the building in the public eye,” he said. “Ultimately, we are glad that the building will be historically preserved and continue to be an integral part in the community.”

Richard Gutman, who previously owned the building for 30 years, said he would have preferred to see the building go to KHTF, but was glad to see the building would no longer be an “eyesore.”

“I’m elated in the fact the building will be rehabbed with a useful purpose,” he said.

City Councilman Bobby Henon was among the community figureheads AASCO met with. Henon helped clear liens and taxes to make purchasing the building a possibility.

“No matter who purchased the building, as long as the historic preservation and the rules that apply for the historic commission is met, and has community support, I support whoever goes in there,” he said.

The group also met with local historians to learn and fully appreciate the history behind the building.

“What is most important for us is that once again since its inception the Lower Dublin Academy will be a school again as intended,” Domi said. “That idea in itself is quite extraordinary.” ••

Logan Krum can be reached at lkrum@newspapermediagroup.com