By Jessica Kinsella
On May 1, 2013, Trail Conference Executive Director Ed Goodell, attorney Andy Norin, Drinker Biddle and Reath, architect Winston Perry, CPLA, and engineer Tibor Latincsics, Conklin Associates, met with the Mahwah Township Zoning Board of Adjustment to approve the site plan for the Darlington Schoolhouse. After years of legal work, this approval marks the first step in initiating the construction on the schoolhouse, bringing the Trail Conference closer to their goal of relocating to this historical treasure.
Goodell and his team of experts discussed in detail the plans for the schoolhouse and how productive the historic site would become once the Trail Conference completed the preservation and renewal. Because the Darlington Schoolhouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Trail Conference took every precaution necessary to make sure the renovation would conserve the original historical integrity while still creating an ecologically efficient, valuable resource for the community. Topics addressed at the meeting included the exterior land surrounding the schoolhouse, overflow parking opportunities, and the interior layout of both the existing schoolhouse and the proposed addition.
Darlington Brook runs through the property located within New Jersey’s Highlands Preservation Area, and the Trail Conference is vigilantly making sure the wetlands will be unaffected by their renovations. Plans to improve the wetlands area functionality include removing fill near the Darlington Brook and establishing a wood turtle habitat to create a space for the endangered native reptiles.
Parking was an important topic addressed before the Adjustment Board. The Trail Conference plans include 27 parking stalls and additional parking off-site when special events or workshops occur. Ramapo College, the Ramapo Reservation, and Mahwah’s Continental Soldiers Park have offered off-site parking to the Trail Conference.
The Trail Conference has big plans for adaptive reuse of the interior of the schoolhouse. The classic design of the original building will be emulated in the addition through the replication of the renowned semicircular arch found in the main entrance. The first floor will contain administrative offices, a small conference room, and a larger space designated for forums and training workshops. The authentic grand stairwell leads to the second floor, where the majority of the volunteer and staff offices will be located, along with more medium-size classrooms.
Getting the site plans approved allows the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference to focus their energy on raising the addition $1 million dollars needed to complete the interior renovations. The Trail Conference will continue to work feverishly to achieve this goal and transform the Darlington Schoolhouse into a functioning center for conservation learning.
Barbara Shanley, chair of the Mahwah Historic Preservation Commission, spoke before the proceedings came to a close to commend the Trail Conference on their efforts to complete this wonderful project. It is obvious to the organizations aware of the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference’s efforts that this renovation will transform the Darlington Schoolhouse from a neglected piece of history to a functional resource for the community to benefit from and enjoy.