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By Lois Thomson

"It's a good story to tell," Bill Haberthur said. The "story" is about the Bethel Park Historical Society, and the reason it's good is because people like Haberthur – curator of the Historical Society and one of nine board members – are helping to make it so.

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The Schoolhouse Arts & History Center, home of the Bethel Park Historical Society

The organization is housed on South Park Road in a former school building called The Schoolhouse Arts & History Center, home of the Bethel Park Historical Society. The building began as a high school in 1905, switched to a vocational school in 1917, then was a grade school until it closed in the 1960s. The school district sold it to the Society for $1; the downside was that it needed a lot of work. Since 2016, volunteers have been doing just that.

Haberthur said the Society had four goals: (1) to save the building; (2) create a repository for the history of the community; (3) set up museums within the building; (4) establish a venue for corporate and private events. So far they are well on their way to accomplishing all of that.

They are restoring the building to its original 1905 – 1917 floor plans, while updating it with modern conveniences and safety features. So far they have received three grants totaling $450,000, which have been used for a new roof and to install HVAC systems on the first and second floor.

The building contains 107 windows, and Haberthur, a 1978 graduate of Bethel Park High School, challenged each class to donate a window for $500. The classes came through, and Haberthur said once the windows were installed, the building took on an air of legitimacy. "Now people who pass by are seeing life, rather than boarded-up windows."

Bethel History2 Copy
Bill Haberthur stands among items displayed in the Historical Society's military museum room.

The members then worked to restore one room at a time, and Haberthur said when enough were finished, the facility started to open for events. One woman runs a dance studio where she teaches ballet and tap. Some are used for blood drives or art classes. A reception was held for local artists. "We want to serve the arts community, and we want to attract a younger crowd."

Some of the rooms are also being turned into museums – one for local veterans of all wars that contains such items as uniforms, guns, medals, and canteens. One focuses on miners, because coal mining was an important part of Bethel Park's history. Another is set up like a classroom with original desks, along with yearbooks from graduating classes dating back to 1932.

"If a building has a soul, this one is so happy now," Haberthur said. It is, as he stated, a good story to tell.

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