Wyoming Seminary clears space for its new creative arts building.
KINGSTON, PA – Randy Granger loves spending time on the wraparound front porch of his home on the Wyoming Seminary campus. When the weather warms, he is looking forward to gazing out from the porch again, this time at an altogether different view.
On Thursday, construction crews moved the house Granger, academic dean of Wyoming Seminary, shares with his wife and three daughters about 250 feet from North Sprague Avenue to the corner of North Maple Avenue and West Hoyt Street, turning it 180 degrees along the way.
“I can watch field hockey and lacrosse games from my front porch now,” Granger said, referring to the athletic fields across the street from his house’s new home. “It will be weird when we move back into it. We kind of got used to where we were, and we’ve got to get used to a new neighborhood, in a sense.”
Wyoming Seminary is moving the building, formerly 286 N. Sprague Ave., and demolishing three others – all owned by the school and used to house faculty – to make room for a new creative arts building on Sprague Avenue. The private high school chose to preserve the home rather than demolish it because of its historic significance and aesthetic appeal.
“It’s beautiful inside with a lot of hand-carved woodwork,” Granger’s wife, Natalie, said. “It’s really lovely.”
Probably built in the early 20th century, the three-story, four-bedroom house was formerly owned by Harry C. Roat, a 1909 Seminary graduate and prominent local businessman who owned a hardware store on Wyoming Avenue, according to school spokeswoman Gail Smallwood.
Roat’s son, Arthur, bequeathed the home to Wyoming Seminary after his death in 1988.
Crews from Wolfe House Movers LLC, of Bernville, prepared for the move Wednesday and Thursday morning by punching holes in the house’s basement walls to install steel I-beams to support the house, lifting it about 5 feet with a unified hydraulic jacking machine, and backfilling its foundation with dirt.
Then a delicate dance of workers and machinery began.
Six power dolly hydraulic drivers – Smartcar-sized four-wheel carts with hydraulic lifts on top – were placed beneath the house and wired to a power unit on the back porch. Once connected, the carts could move as one unit, manipulated by a remote control operated by crew leader Jamin Buckingham. Standing directly under the house during much of the move to see the wheels better, Buckingham turned the home about 135 degrees, moved it diagonally across its back yard, then completed the 180 degree turn and guided it down a slope to its new location.
“I’ve done this for years and years and years,” he said, nonchalant, after stepping from beneath the 110-ton structure.
As the machines did the heavy lifting, workers and forklifts circled the house, laying down a track of steel plates for the house to drive over.
In all, the move took about three hours.
The structure was then placed on hardwood cribbing on top of the new foundation footer, which will support the structure as crews from A. Pickett Construction, Kingston, build new foundation walls underneath.
“It’s definitely a unique project,” said Levi Bonnice, the project manager for A. Pickett. “It’s not very often you’re building foundation dimensions to a building that already exists. It’s critical that you get everything exact because the house already exists and you can’t modify things to make it work.”
Bonnice said the foundation should be finished around Christmas.
Sem moved the house and will demolish two additional houses and a four-unit apartment building – all owned by the school – to make room for a new creative arts center it hopes to open by fall, 2014, as well as additional parking. Construction is expected to begin this spring.
John Vaida, chair of the school’s fine arts department, said the school has outgrown its current performing arts facilities as its music program has expanded. Sem currently has an 85-member choir; 50-member orchestra; wind, string and hand bell ensembles; jazz band and madrigal singers, and some groups have resorted to rehearsing in hallways for lack of space, Vaida said.
“We have so many students involved in music making right now,” Vaida said. “Between the orchestras, choirs (and) the different ensembles, there just isn’t enough space for everyone who wants to use it.”
Final plans for the project will not be approved until the school’s Board of Trustees meets today, but they are expected to include a 600-seat auditorium with theater stage, art gallery, dance studio and several classrooms and rehearsal spaces.
According to school President Kip Nygren, the new arts center will supplement, not replace, its existing performing arts buildings – the Buckingham Performing Arts Center on Sprague Avenue and the Great Hall on Wyoming Avenue.
“What we realized a few years ago was our arts program – since the time the Buckingham Performing Arts Center was built – has become a really high-quality program,” Nygren said. “The quality of the program has really exceeded the quality of the facilities, and to continue to have a top-quality program we need to have top-quality facilities.”
The Buckingham Performing Arts Center was constructed in 1977.
The move Thursday drew a crowd of onlookers and slowed traffic as passing motorists craned their necks to watch.
“This is amazing; how many people ever get to see this?” asked Ginny Ricci, who lives caddy-corner to the home on North Sprague Avenue.
“I’ve never seen anything like this before,” Christina Thomas, a 17-year-old Wyoming Seminary Junior from Drums, said as she watched the house make the descent towards it final resting place. “It will be interesting to see how it plays out. I’m kind of afraid it’s going to collapse, but I’m sure it will work out.”
The move didn’t thrill all in the neighborhood, however.
Kate Crossin lives with her parents, Molly and Jay Crossin, next to the house’s new location on North Maple Avenue. She said her family and other Maple Avenue residents opposed the move.
“We feel like Seminary is taking over all the houses on our street and the next street over,” she said. “We always liked it vacant because we could look out our windows; we liked the quiet.”
Nygren responded that the school has kept neighbors informed about its plans and said the campus expansion would ultimately make the neighborhood more attractive.
“In the end, this is going to be a nice area.” Nygren said. “If I owned a house in this area, I would feel good because I think property values will increase because of this, but change is always hard.”