What Price Restoration?

Down in South Jersey, there’s a small town that is wrestling with a difficult question: How much is historic preservation worth?

At the corner of Griscom Mill Road and Route 50 in Corbin City in Atlantic County stands one of the few remaining two-room schoolhouses in the state. But the cozy, single-story, white building has fallen into disrepair over the last several decades, and local officials are struggling to come up with the funds to restore it.

The local government has set aside $10,000 to start restoring the gutted schoolhouse, which predates the city itself, having been built in 1920. Corbin also received a $15,000 grant to make other improvements, and officials are shooting for another $20,000 grant to fund energy-efficient heating and cooling systems for the drafty structure. But there’s a long road ahead. No money has yet been spent on restoration and local residents and officials are starting to wonder whether it’s worth the tax dollars.

For those who have never visited, Corbin is tiny, and over the next few years the municipality stands to lose at least $70,000 in state aid (more than 10 percent of its operating budget). Suddenly the restoration of an old schoolhouse, whose roof collapsed by a fire 10 years ago, seems like a small priority.

There’s a good argument that these days, fiscal responsibility trumps the luxury of historic preservation. But then again, how do you put a price tag on conserving the past?

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