Emlenton lifeblood

Oil City resident Glenn Cochran strolls past the Crawford Center, formerly a public school, in Emlenton. Cochran, who has worked more than 20 years to transform the building into a multi-tenant complex, was chosen to be grand marshal for Emlenton's annual SummerFest parade on July 13. (By Richard Sayer)

What do you do with a big old empty school building that appears to have had its last hurrah?

Find a Glenn Cochran to chart its future and you wind up with a fully-rented structure that boasts a multi-tenant list from police station to child care center, apparel shop, museum and more.

To honor him for being the individual "who has done more with this Emlenton building than anyone else," Cochran has been tapped to be parade marshal for the community's annual SummerFest parade on July 13, said Nancy Marano, the Emlenton Borough manager.

The Crawford Center, a former public school in downtown Emlenton Borough, is marking its 20th year as a viable and key resource in a community of less than 800 residents.

In 1996, the Allegheny-Clarion Valley School District moved out of the old school, built by oilman Harry J. Crawford in 1928 as a loving tribute to his wife and parents and gifted to the community.

Shortly after the school closed, Cochran, an Oil City resident and retired Quaker State employee, began a quest to fill the building.

In cahoots with Dick Castonguay, former executive director of the Venango Economic Development Corp., the pair checked out the old school and decided the building could have a future as a multi-tenant, multi-purpose center.

Over the next several months, they began enticing tenants to set up shop in the newly christened Crawford Center and obtained grants to repair the structure.

The pair also "scrubbed and scraped the walls, crawled around and took out carpets - a little bit of everything," said Cochran.

In 1997, Cochran became manager of the Crawford Center and stepped up his efforts to wheedle leases for space in the old school.

Dozens of tenants, ranging from retail to beauty shops, day care center, municipal offices, private businesses, restaurants, a museum and many more, have taken him up on the offer since the center opened and the two-story Crawford Center plus basement are filled today.

The spacious auditorium and gymnasium are also tapped for community events.

Cochran continues that work today as a contracted employee with the Oil Region Alliance.

"Yes, this is my baby. I kind of came with the building," Cochran said. "I remember walking into this old and vacant building and thinking 'how do I do this' because nothing was here," said Cochran, who grew up a few miles away in "the outskirts of Lamartine" and whose son attended kindergarten at the former school.

In what he described as a "game-changer," the borough relocated its municipal offices plus police station into the former school. It was a move that Cochran said "gave us credibility within the community."

From there, the classrooms became offices and stores and more.

"We had some unique leases, like a tattoo business and a trucking company," said Cochran. "We had two day cares on the same floor and that was challenging. And, we had some midnight movers who just packed up and moved out."

The personal touch

More than a manager, Cochran has reached out for funding, too, and been successful in attracting funding for various building projects. Key donors were the Phillips Trust and Crawford Trust.

"In terms of money, we are about equal with a little bit of tiny black ink when before we had a lot of red ink," said Cochran.

As to renovations, much attention has been directed at keeping much of the old school atmosphere intact.

"Whatever we could leave with the tenants, like the old blackboards and the girls-and-boys restroom signs, we did," said Marano. "We have a lot of people come here during SummerFest who love to talk about their relatives or themselves going to school here. That's kinda cool to be able to offer that. And Glenn has been the person who has tried to keep the character of the building."

While Cochran serves as a jack-of-all-trades as to building upkeep as well as the lease guru, he is keen for the one-on-one dealings, too, when it comes to tenants.

"I had my business, Amy's Closet, in the old mill on Main Street and when it burned down a few years ago, Glenn was right on top of everything and told me, 'Amy, whatever you need'," said Amy Whitehill, vice president of Emlenton Borough Council. "I moved into the Crawford Center and was so thankful to Glenn. I love it here," Whitehill added.

"People know they can trust Glenn," Whitehill said. "There is credibility with him and a little town like ours operates on credibility, on trust."

Patty Anderson, a 4-H program coordinator through the Penn State Extension Service, had the quarters for the ElectroTechs 4-H Robotics Club in a local grange. The location meant the robots and related projects "had to keep being torn down" because the space was used by others.

"We moved here and it was absolutely a godsend for us," Anderson said. "We would have been on the street looking for a place to do the robots. This gave us a home and Glenn just made us so happy. He is all about community," she added

In agreement, Marano noted, "Our tenants over the years wouldn't be here without his daily attention to this center."

Leading the parade

A highlight of Emlenton's annual SummerFest, set July 12-14, is the fireman's parade on Saturday, July 13. Leading it off will be Cochran as grand marshal.

"This is an anniversary for our Crawford Center and he was the perfect choice to be honored," said Marano. "The Crawford Center is a busy place, with lots of foot traffic, and everyone in town tells people to come visit it. The building is full of tenants and there are always requests to lease space. It is all because of Glenn."

For Cochran, who will turn 74 the day after the parade, just being in a parade is a novel experience.

"I've never been in a parade before," he said. "It's nice, but a little funny, to be recognized. I guess I'll have to throw candy, although maybe my wife Martha will do that. And I'm working on my wave, too."