The tragic fire at the Old Schoolhouse Condos began just after 1pm on Thursday June 1, 2017 and displaced about 60 residents occupying 40 units of 1, 2 or 3 bedroom condominiums. It was a 7-alarm fire with more than 100 firefighters from 16 communities as far away as Boston, responded with much energy, expertise and commitment to getting it under control and expeditiously ending. They did so by 11:30pm after pouring 1.5 million gallons of water over it. Fortunately, no lives were lost except for 1 cat.
The time of day, the firefighters involved and the incredible efforts of our businesses, churches, social organizations and residents represent the real story behind this fire of what community truly means. It was the largest fire in Reading’s recent history and the first time Boston firefighters were here since 1954.
The first challenge for affected residents was to find a place to stay, getting a mailing address and reestablishing their means of communication. Relatives, friends and neighbors all helped as condo owners were faced with carrying the extra expense of living in a second place while still carrying their condo expenses. To be sure, insurance helped but even insurance goes only so far.
Help came from many sources like the traditional American Red Cross and Salvation Army. From the Reading Community, the Pleasant Street Senior Center for Nursing Care and lunches, and our Mission of Deeds for bedding supplies. Hundreds of local residents and businesses donated gift cards that were then distributed to each resident of the Old Reading School House. Numerous businesses jumped in to help including local pharmacies that went out of their way to get prescriptions replaced and local veterinarians getting pets to breathe normally.
Local restaurants, businesses and community organizations held fundraisers while the Reading Cooperative Bank served as the depository and distributor of funds to the displaced residents. First Congregational Church, across Sanborn Street, served as a reunification center and continues its support serving as the location for weekly Trustee meetings and periodic owner meetings. In fact, all our churches generously pitched in with helping get life’s necessities as did the town.
The first 5 months after the fire were devoted to determining its cause which was never firmly established. Next came the removal of the structural areas most affected by the fire, water damage and mold beginning with a portion of the roof and then inside. The roof remained open throughout that winter further exasperating mold build-up and its necessary removal once again. The support of all town departments including the fire department as well as building, plumbing and electrical inspectors were prominent in the rebuilding process.
Three of the Schoolhouse residents who voluntarily serve as the Condo’s Trustees are representing owners’ interests in the rebuilding process and meeting weekly or even more frequently with Brigs Management, independent contractors, architects, and town officials, when appropriate, in making the vital decisions in the rebuilding and reoccupying process. The Schoolhouse residents are: Joyce Laundre, Janice Jones and Bob Smith. The Trustees are elected annually. The three Trustees were in place prior to the fire.
All owners are looking forward to getting back in, painting, buying needed new furniture and just getting settled in the home that offers a nice location combining the closeness of downtown with a residential feeling. Each unit is distinctively laid out and now equipped with today’s technologically supported connections. The Schoolhouse is purely residential with no mixed-use applications.
The Schoolhouse was initially opened as a Condo in 1991, some 28 years ago, with several of the 40 units still occupied by the original owners. The demographics of ownership are surprisingly not that much different from the town’s overall home ownership. About 50% of the condo owners work and the balance are retirees. There are families with children living in the Schoolhouse. Nearly all current owners will reoccupy with the small number not doing so having moved out of the area or are now feeling more comfortable with their “temporary” place.
The building first opened in 1906 as the site of Reading High School which then moved in 1954 to its current location as Reading Memorial High School. North Reading students attended the original RHS and then RMHS until 1958 when North Reading opened its own high school. It then served as the Community Center until 1988 when conversion to condo units began.
Among the many attractions of the Schoolhouse Condo is that it’s one of 2 near downtown condos, the other being Postmark, currently being built on Haven Street. The remaining new residential construction are apartments…..The Met at the train station and the Maggiore apartments at 475 Main Street. The Old Reading School House, as previously mentioned, is the only one that’s purely residential. In addition, it is anticipated that our ReImagine Reading downtown effort encouraging walking and discouraging auto traffic can only add to the Schoolhouse’s value.
Joyce, Janice and Bob, who have represented the condo owners in this whole process of getting back to the Schoolhouse, would like to use this opportunity to praise town officials, businesses, churches, social organizations and the local residents for all their efforts during this process. They extend a sincere thank you and want Chronicle readers to know that good can come in unfortunate circumstances when you have a town as thoughtful as Reading.
Joyce, a retired educational administrator, moved from Melrose to the Schoolhouse (ORSH) in 2012 with her husband Glenn and dog Lola.
Janice graduated from Reading Memorial High School and has lived in Reading with her family for over 50 years. She worked as a dental hygienist for a Reading dentist for many years. Her 3 children graduated from RMHS along with 5 of her 7 grandchildren. She’s been a 6-year resident of ORSH.
Bob has been a Reading resident for 45 years, has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Biochemistry from St. Martins University and is a veteran of the Vietnam War. He is a retired sales executive with ADT Security Services.
Bob is President/Chairman of the current Trustee Board of ORSH while Joyce is Treasurer and Janice is Secretary. of ORSH.