The restoration of Brentwood’s oldest schoolhouse is nearly complete after decades of delays.
The octagonal Modern Times Schoolhouse, which is listed on the State and National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1857 but fell into disrepair since closing more than a century ago.
The builders were part of a utopian settlement of about 150 people known as Modern Times. From 1851 to 1864, they lived on 90 acres in what is now Brentwood.
The octagonal building was used as a schoolhouse until 1907 and then as a private residence, according to Ellen Edelstein, president of the Brentwood Historical Society.
More on the old schoolhouse
- The octagonal Modern Times Schoolhouse, listed on the State and National Registers of Historic Places, was built in 1857 by residents of Modern Times, a utopian settlement of about 150 people who lived on 90 acres in what's now Brentwood.
- Efforts to restore the building have been ongoing since the Brentwood Historical Society was chartered in 1992.
- The structure was moved onto a school district property in 1989.
Source: Brentwood Historical Society
In 1988, the Sisters of St. Joseph, who previously acquired the schoolhouse, donated it to the Brentwood Union Free School District, and in 1989 the structure was moved to the same property as the district's administration building.
“It’s a stubborn little building,” said Edelstein, who since 2012 has helped spearhead its restoration.
Stacy O’Connor, a school district assistant superintendent, said she expects the project to wrap up this fall after the building’s windows arrive.
In 2022, the school district took the lead on renewed restoration efforts. The project so far has cost around half a million dollars, with money drawn from the district’s general fund and about $144,000 in grants that the historical society helped to obtain, according to school and historical society officials.
The building will be a “tourist site for our district,” with classes visiting to learn more about local history and students from other districts potentially visiting as well, according to Brentwood school board president Eileen Felix.
“If you don’t know where you come from, you don’t necessarily know where you’re going,” she said.
Edelstein said efforts to restore the building have been ongoing since the Brentwood Historical Society was chartered in 1992.
She attributed project delays to funding challenges, the deaths of people leading the push for restoration and delays and other complications from Superstorm Sandy in 2012 and the COVID-19 pandemic's start in 2020.
Restoration efforts came to a halt in 2017 when it became public that a school board member’s husband stood to financially benefit when the board awarded the schoolhouse repair job to his company, 5th Dimension Design Associates, Newsday previously reported.
The member, who is no longer on the board, abstained from voting but hadn’t disclosed the conflict of interest to the entire board before the vote, which later was repealed.
O’Connor said the project still was in the planning stage at that point and the controversy didn't cause a significant delay.
The Modern Times society had no criminal justice system, money or taxes and women could vote, Edelstein previously told Newsday.
The egalitarian society unraveled during the Civil War due to economic pressures and an influx of outsiders with different philosophies.