Bradford Township firefighters to practice in former school

University plans to demolish former school property this summer

St. Bernards

The former Bradford Central Christian High/St. Bernard Elementary School will perform one last act of service before its demolition this summer.

Next month, the Bradford Township Volunteer Fire Department will use the building for a certified forcible entry class conducted by Pennsylvania State Fire Instructor Tim Burkhouse and sponsored through Butler County Community College.

The department also plans to practice search and rescue and hose advancement, the logistics of getting large and hard-to-handle fire hoses to sites where they’re needed.

Daniel Burkhouse is the chief of the fire department. “An actual building provides a better training experience than simulation at the fire station and/or props at the fire school training grounds in Smethport,” he said.

“We are glad to be able to give our township firefighter neighbors the opportunity to use the building to help enhance their training,” said Rick Esch, interim president at the University of Pittsburgh at Bradford, which owns the building.

The building has been empty since 2019, when the Catholic Diocese of Erie closed what was then St. Bernard Elementary School. A year later the university purchased the building from a third party who had hoped to renovate the building. Those renovation plans fell through.

The university plans to demolish the former school this summer after removing asbestos.

In 2018, the university considered buying the property directly from St. Bernard Parish in order to use the former school building for STEM-related academic programs.

The university hired Pittsburgh architectural firm MacLachlan, Cornelius & Filoni to conduct a feasibility study for the renovation of the building. According to that study, the total estimated cost to renovate St. Bernard School to meet the university's program needs as well as all building code requirements would exceed $34.1 million. By contrast, the George B. Duke Engineering and Information Technologies Building now under construction near Hanley Library will cost $24.5 million to build.

Probable future uses for the West Washington Street property by the university include the expansion and development of athletic and recreation facilities.

Last year, the university made the former school available as a site for community COVID-19 vaccination clinics.

The university also worked with alumni of the Bradford Central Christian High School to remove trophies, trophy cases, yearbooks and other historical and sentimental items for inclusion in a potential museum to showcase the school.

Other items, such as desks, bookshelves and filing cabinets, were donated to members of the community.

Pitt-Bradford is also raising money toward a Bradford Central Christian/St. Bernard Legacy Scholarship Fund to provide scholarships for Pitt-Bradford students in need and honor the schools’ legacies.

To make a tax-deductible gift to the fund, contact the Pitt-Bradford Office of Philanthropic and Alumni Engagement at 814-362-5091 or