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Etna's library has a home

Updated: Sep 6, 2022

On August 31st, 2022, the Etna Community Organization acquired the historic Ochse Building at 341-343 Butler Street. As the highest-prioritized catalytic project from the Etna EcoDistrict Plan (2019), this property will become the home to the Rivertown Libraries - Etna Branch and serve as a library and community center when a renovation is complete.

Megan Tuñón, ECO Executive Director, and Mary Ellen Ramage, ECO Vice Chair and Etna Borough Manager, following acquisition.

To purchase the property, ECO has been working diligently on the project since October 2020 in a close partnership with Etna Borough and the Triboro Ecodistrict. Through grant writing, program applications, and fundraisers, the partners raised the acquisition funding through a diverse and generous network:

$175,000 from Allegheny County's Gaming Economic Development Tourism Fund

$100,000 from the Henry L. Hillman Foundation

$31,000 from the Tuñón, Ramage, Wolovich, and Kirin families

$25,000 from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Neighborhood Partnership Program

$4,000 from the Triboro Ecodistrict

$335,000 acquisition funding total

Funding applications require letters of support and advocacy from elected officials. Since the commencement of the project, State Representative Sara Innamorato and State Senator Lindsey Williams have been attending development meetings and advocating on the project's behalf.

Historic photos of the Ochse Building and Henry Ochse.

The historic Ochse Building was built between 1870-1879 by the Ochse family. The family was lead by Henry Ochse, Etna's first burgess (similar to mayor), and his wife Mary Sutters. Henry was an immigrant from Germany who worked as an iron mill worker at Spang's Mill for about 20 years prior to becoming the town's school director, assessor, the first burgess, and later a borough councilman. All three of their sons, H.W. Ochse, C.D. Ochse, and S.J. Ochse, were thriving members of Etna's mercantile circle and leading businessmen. The Ochse Building was originally built for the family to operate a grocery store, dry goods store, Etna's post office, and an upper level social hall.

Over the past 150 years, the property has changed hands many times. When the property last went up for sale, it was 2017 during the early stages of the Etna EcoDistrict and before the Etna Community Organization was established as an official nonprofit. At that time, it purchased by Megan and Robert Tuñón to hold the building in a conservatorship until the nonprofit was formed and had the funding to purchase the building. While Etna's property values have significantly increased over the last five years, the two had committed to selling the property at the same price it was purchased for in 2017: $335,000. The move proved vital as the fundraising took years, prices escalated rapidly, and Etna's main street properties moved quickly off the market.

Top: 343 Butler Street as a Vape Shop in 2022. Bottom: Rendering of 343 Butler Street as a community library.

Once ECO's board was established in 2019, they formed an independent committee apart from the Tuñóns to conduct due diligence in investigating the property, as well as other potential properties. Following the study, the committee determined that the organization was making the best choice for this important project by acquiring the Ochse Building. The site is in a walkable location in the heart of the business district, easily accessible by all modes of transportation, and well-sized for the library and community center.

Left: Top floor of the Ochse Building in 2022. Right: Rendering of a one-bedroom apartment on the top floor.

With acquisition complete and the new Rivertown Library System partnership established, two tremendous milestones have been accomplished. By December 2022, the architectural and engineering teams will have completed drawings for permits paving way for construction to begin. The development's fundraising will add additional years to the project timeline, but fundraising for the $3.11 million project continues to make progress.

By acquiring the property, ECO and Etna Borough are proud to have preserved a piece of the town for public use, a community asset that will serve generations to come.

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