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The Reporter, June 24, 2004

"School's Cupola Removed"

By Jennifer McCandless
Staff Writer

GREEN BROOK - As the Irene E. Feldkirchner School is being demolished, the cupola that sat atop the school is safely being stored in the township public works garage.

Last Saturday, school board president Gary LoPinto, Tim and Chris Weniger, and other volunteers removed the cupola from the school. LoPinto said he made arrangements with Tim Weniger and a friend at Sky Hy Erectors and Equipment to have a crane come to the school to lift the cupola from the roof. The Wenigers climbed onto the roof of the school and prepared the cupola to be raised by the crane.

"It was a little difficult to get it (the cupola) off the roof because it had a large, metal flue running through it," LoPinto said. "It obviously was a fully functioning cupola at some point. But, we had to cut through the flue. After that, the cupola came right off."

LoPinto said looking up at the cupola from the ground he did not realize how large the structure was. The cupola weighed nearly 2,000 pounds and stood about 16 feet tall. LoPinto said everyone who helped bring down the cupola was a volunteer.

"We got the crane for free and everyone else who came out was there as a volunteer," LoPinto said. "They all really deserve a lot of credit for what they did. I really appreciate it. This was above and beyond what you would expect anyone to do."

The efforts to save the cupola began shortly after the Board of Education decided to demolish the front building at IEF because of a severe mold condition at the school. Second-grade teacher Jean Ohan said when the school district began talking about knocking down the front building at IEF they also discussed what items at the mold-infested school could be saved. Ohan said she wanted the cupola to be among the trophy cases and plaques that will become part of the new school building.

"The first thing I asked about was the cupola," Ohan said. "It's part of the school's history. It's one of the most easily recognizable structures in the town and I wanted to do something to save it. It's part of the school's charm and it reminds me of the old-fashioned typical schoolhouses with the cupola and bell towers on top. You don't see schools like that anymore and I didn't want to lose that here, too."

The school board decided it was too risky to put the cupola atop the new building Officials feared a vent that led up from the main building might be covered in mold and they did not want to risk creating a "mold situation" in the new building. Ohan then volunteered to take the cupola home and reach out to community groups to find a way to preserve it and make it a part of the new school.

LoPinto said he had known Ohan wanted to save the cupola but, after not hearing anyhing about her efforts for months thought the situation was resolved. LoPinto said after an article appeared in The Reporter he called Ohan and asked what he could do to help.

"I asked if she was serious and she said she was," LoPinto said. "After that, I made some calls and found a crane and a crew to lift this thing off the building."

A crane and crew was on its way to IEF last Thursday, but construction crews at the site said they needed proof of insurance from the crane owners to allow it onto the construction site to remove he cupola. LoPinto said the proper insurance forms were given to the construction manager but the cupola removal was delayed until Saturday morning.

"It took longer to do this than I had hoped," LoPinto said. "Thankfully, everything worked out. We got the crane and everone came out first thing Saturday morning to lift off the cupola." LoPinto said the cupola was put into a trailer and taken to the town hall parking lot. The cupola was then moved to the public works garage for safekeeping.

Ohan was not at IEF when the cupola came down, but said she was relieved to know it was saved. Ohan said she was grateful to the many volunteers that helped save the cupola. "This little project drew together a lot of people in the community," Ohan said. "I'm very satisfied it was done. I have to say, this would not have happened without Gary (LoPinto). He really took control of things and worked hard to find someone to help us.

Ohan said she is not sure what will be done with the cupola. Several residents have offered to help Ohan restore the cupola.

"I'm not sure what we're going to do just yet," Ohan said. "I have to talk to the school board to see if we can put the cupola back on the school property. If not, then I'm going to approach the Township Committee to see if we can place it on town grounds. We have some time to figure out what we're going to do. Ideally, I would have the cupola placed on school property. I think if a nice foundation were built and we fixed up the cupola a bit, it would make a lovely marquee for the new building."