Burlington County Times
BORDENTOWN CITY — Joe Gankiewicz is not from Bordentown. He was born and raised in Hamilton.
He doesn’t live in the city, either. He resides in Robbinsville.
But when his friend, Joanne Paul, a city resident, called him in December to ask for a city-specific favor, Gankiewicz accepted almost without hesitation.
The Bordentown Historical Society was renovating the roof at the Clara Barton Schoolhouse, the first public school in New Jersey, which still stands at 109 E. Burlington St. A new roof would be the expensive first step in a $50,000 effort to restore the landmark.
The historical society is preserving the building to keep it open for resident and visitor tours, as well as class field trips from schools around the state, according to Bonnie Goldman, a city resident and the society’s co-president.
Gankiewicz’s contracting company, Trenton Roofing & Siding, has been installing new roofs for 40 years all over New Jersey and Pennsylvania, according to its website. But the owner usually takes for-profit projects.
He did this one free of charge.
“It felt good for the soul,” Gankiewicz said. “Preserve a piece of history.”
The owner and his workers completed the job in one day, on Dec. 28, starting at 6:45 a.m. and finishing up in the afternoon.
They built the new roof with the same materials, cedar shingles, that likely marked the old one from the 1800s, when the school opened, Goldman said. Most modern roofs are built with lighter asphalt shingles, or “the fake stuff,” as the president described them.
Gankiewicz estimated that the old roof on the schoolhouse was at least 50 years old. When his guys tore off the tarp to start the project, they discovered that about a quarter of the structure was missing. It took a full team of six workers to finish the small effort.
But the guys thought it was worth it, Gankiewicz said.
“The guys learned about it. They knew what was going on,” the owner added. “Clara Barton played a big role.”
Trenton Roofing has remained profitable through the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to Gankiewicz. He said since more area residents are working from home, and staying home in general, more people have been paying for roofing, siding and other remodeling projects.
When Paul called Gankiewicz he felt like he had to pay it forward.
“It was just there,” the owner concluded.
Goldman originally thought that the historical society wouldn’t be able to commission and complete the new roof until the spring. Now, the biggest part of the renovation project is done by the new year, with plenty of unexpected money to spare for next steps, like installing new heating and fencing. The historical society has a goal of finishing the project by the end of 2021.
Society members have raised over $40,000 from residents of not just the city and Bordentown Township, but also Riverside, Moorestown and several other Burlington County towns, according to Goldman. Almost 150 people have donated to the project.
The Bank of Princeton’s Bordentown branch has also made a $2,000 donation.
“We are restoring it to the way it was,” Goldman said of the schoolhouse.
A local news and sports reporter around Pennsylvania and New Jersey since 2015, Jarrad Daniel Saffren joined The Burlington County Times’ award-winning local news team in October 2019, adding business, education and town government features to the coverage. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @JarradSaff. Please help support local journalism with a subscription to The Burlington County Times.