By LARRY ROBINSON
An ongoing push by Ogdensburg officials to encourage reinvestment in the community is one of the reasons entrepreneur John P. Wade has decided to convert the former Sherman Elementary School on Franklin Street into a bed and breakfast, community center and coffee shop.
Mr. Wade, an Ogdensburg native who has lived for years in California as a regional buyer for Bed, Bath and Beyond, recently received approval from the city Planning Board to convert the historic school building, which closed last year, into a hospitality business.
The first stage of what he says is a multi-phase project will see him opening a bed and breakfast by the end of July that will feature four upstairs suites of between 700 and 850 square feet each. He said each room is being designed to incorporate historic and educational items already found in the building, such as vintage black boards and other classroom artifacts.
“I’m actually leaving the original integrity of the building. No walls are being removed. Anything that was original to the building itself I am leaving in place,” Mr. Wade said.
Mr. Wade said he plans to open a “community room” in September and then a 24-seat coffee house in the spring. The coffee house will include a space for the sale and exhibition of local and regionally made artisan wares.
For Mr. Wade, the project to find a new use for the historic Sherman Elementary School building is a labor of love, and one that compelled him to pull up stakes in the Golden State and return to his native Maple City. The 49-year-old businessman said he had always hoped to return to Ogdensburg some day, but needed the right project at the right time to make it a reality.
“I had wanted to come back to Ogdensburg. I believe in Ogdensburg,” Mr. Wade said. “To be able to come back to a community, to make a difference and to be involved, is huge for me,” he said.
Mr. Wade said a push by city officials to breathe new life into Ogdensburg by encouraging current and former residents to reinvest in the community played a major role in his decision to return home and take on the task of refurbishing the old school building. He pointed to the city’s waterfront development plans for the former Diamond International Paper site and plans for a visitors center at the Fort La Presentation site near Lighthouse Point as proactive initiatives that are helping to reinvigorate the economy and quality of life in the city.
“I really do want to encourage others,” Mr. Wade said. “I hopefully want to send a message that the city is open to entrepreneurs and is small business-friendly.”
Ogdensburg City Manager John M. Pinkerton said Mr. Wade is a perfect example of how encouraging business investment at the grass roots level can pay dividends. He said Mr. Wade is just one of several former residents with whom officials have been in contact in hopes of luring them home.
“John coming back, and others like him, make people realize that you don’t find a community like Ogdensburg every day,” Mr. Pinkerton said. “We’ve got to have that entrepreneurial spirit that this community used to be known for. John is a great symbol of what we are trying to do, and hope to see more of, in the future.”
Mr. Wade bought the Sherman building for $20,000 last year, after the Ogdensburg City School District tried unsuccessfully to market the property for $250,000.
After months with no buyer, school officials opted to sell the property to Mr. Wade at a much lower price, with the expectation that he could redevelop the lot and building and get it on the tax rolls.
The original Sherman school was built in 1895, and rebuilt after a fire in 1949.
The 16,600-square-foot building, rebuilt is named after Socrates Sherman, the first president of the Board of Education in Ogdensburg.