ST. STANISLAUS, AMSTERDAM
Former school evolves into center for the arts
Instead of selling the former school building at an Amsterdam parish, the pastor learned how to dance the waltz in it.
If he wanted to, he could also take piano lessons or get a massage. After St. Stanislaus School closed five years ago, parish volunteers painted the walls in cheery colors, sanded and waxed the floors and opened the three-story, 105-year-old building to renters.
There has been at least one tenant at all times in what's now called the "St. Stanislaus Center for Learning and the Arts."
A daycare center came first, but later moved; the building is now home to a community chorus' 100 robes and thousands of songbooks, as well as a piano instructor, a massage therapist, a thrift store and an artist's studio.
A new Catholic radio station, WOPG 89.9 FM, will be setting up shop and installing a satellite dish there in March.
Only one tenant - the piano teacher - currently pays rent for full-time use, about $600 a month, including heat, hot water and building maintenance. The others pay part-time rent or make donations.
Though this is not fiscally ideal, Rev. David Mickiewicz is happy to see the property surviving. "The building is being used, which for me is important," said the pastor.
One of the Treasures 'n More thrift store volunteers, Rachel Greco, attended St. Stanislaus School until the eighth grade and sent her son there for pre-Kindergarten. She said she wishes the school never had to close, but the store is a good way to bring in money for the church.
The store's supply of donated books, clothes, shoes and home goods rivals that of a Salvation Army or Goodwill. They get so many donations that they often need to send overflow to those stores. A recent prized item was a mink coat.
The tenants are certainly thankful to have the space. Chad Czelusniak teaches about five regular students, and many wedding-bound one-timers, how to ballroom dance three afternoons or evenings per week. He pays between $300 and $400 in rent to use the space during that time.
"I love the sense of community that I get from people who are part of the church," said Mr. Czelusniak, a former full-time instructor and competitive dancer who now designs kitchen cabinets at Lowe's home store.
His music needs to be loud at times, and the other tenants and parish leaders are OK with it, he said.
The space is the second location that piano instructor Amanda Grab uses. She's no longer taking new students at her other location and hopes her 30 students there will follow her to St. Stanislaus.
She wants to expand into other rooms in the building; she said she "freaked out" when there was talk of closing it about a year ago.
"This is where I'm building a new studio," Ms. Grab said. She currently has nine students at St. Stanislaus; one of her former spaces was only larger by 300 square feet, but cost twice the amount she pays at St. Stanislaus.
"I love this building. I love this space. It's kind of a no-brainer," she remarked.
Seven 780-square-foot rooms still remain unused. It's partly the lack of elevator and accessibility for persons with disabilities, and partly failed advertising efforts, Father Mickiewicz said.
"We just can't get the word out," he explained.
Come on in
One of his ideas is to invite community organizations or Alcoholics Anonymous groups to use half rooms for their meetings.
Meanwhile, for the two couples trying to start up the radio station, an old computer classroom already equipped with internet and electrical feeds was perfect.
They have no background in radio, but filed an application with the Federal Communications Commission in 2007 to become a non-commercial education station (read a previous story at www.evangelist.org). They purchased a radio tower in Cherry Valley and plan to start broadcasting in May or June.
They estimate the startup will cost about $320,000 over three years. They've been soliciting donations at parishes.
"Everything is really set up for us," said Tom and Laura Threlkeld, one of the couples. "It's like a blessing."