Envisioning the Future
Imagine a new beginning for the 200-plus-year-old Schmidt & Ault paper mill along Kings Mill Road; the once blighted property transformed with tall windows and stunning views of the Codorus Creek, shared labs and workspaces—a Silicon Valley atmosphere right here in York.
Pamela Gunter-Smith, President of York College, envisions the building’s new life as a place to foster the free-flowing exchange of ideas among students and professionals from all disciplines in a state-of-the art environment: the York College Knowledge Park.
Working closely with community partners, Jeff Vermeulen, York College’s Assistant Vice President of External Affairs, is leading the initiative to turn the vision into reality. From York College’s perspective, he sees Knowledge Park as a learning lab—a place where students focus on project-based learning and internships while faculty facilitate sponsored research. “It’s a step forward in the evolution in what it means to receive a York College education and how we partner with the community,” he says. “This type of real-world learning will happen on our campus and will speak to the student who’s going to want the York College experience.”
The Knowledge Park is a collaboration between the academic community and the City and is part of the larger vision that combines the connection of York City to the College’s Engaged Scholars programs, its five schools, and three signature high-impact teaching practices of project-based learning, global awareness, and faculty-student research.
About two years ago, when the Codorus Creek Beautification Initiative got underway and grant money from the state’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) seemed attainable, the timing was right for the Knowledge Park vision to become reality. The College received a $6 million RACP grant last year, which will help with renovating several buildings on the north side of Kings Mill Road. Work is scheduled to begin next year.
“With a major need for high tech and cyber-related training, this forward-thinking plan by York College, will boost our region’s emergence as a top location for a highly-skilled, trained, and technical workforce,” says Sen. Kristin Phillips- Hill (R-York). “This investment will ensure York County will be home to one of the most cutting-edge institutions that leads to family-sustaining careers for many years and will pay major dividends back to the local and state economies.”
Dataforma, a web-based cloud software company that provides services to the construction industry, joined the J.D. Brown Center in 2011. As the company grew into a multimillion-dollar organization with nearly 30 employees, they sought to find new space, but didn’t want to lose the connections with the College. When Dataforma CEO Mark Zeleznock heard about Knowledge Park, he jumped at the opportunity to become an anchor tenant.
“We were willing to do whatever it took,” Zeleznock says. “We love working with young students and recent graduates, and York College is providing the skills that our business requires.” According to Vermeulen, this kind of collaboration is one of the ways to reduce Pennsylvania’s brain drain—where educated people in their 20s and 30s leave the state. Knowledge Park, he says, can help keep those minds here.
Zeleznock sees the opportunity for Knowledge Park to become a conduit for high-level talent to move into the area. “It’s tough to be in a small town and recruit employees when there’s only one company in town doing this type of development,” he says.
York College has done an excellent job of renovating existing buildings that are part of York’s history. One alumnus, in particular, has a strong connection to the mill. For the past six decades, John C. Schmidt ’48 has driven the same way into York from his home in Spring Garden Township—down Grantley Road, through Kings Mill Road, and past the mill his grandfather bought over 100 years ago.
York College has been in communication with Schmidt since the early stages of the Knowledge Park project. Now 89, he can still remember vivid details of the property’s history. He even wrote a book about it several years ago, called The Mill: My Life in Paper.
In 1898, Schmidt’s grandfather and a partner purchased the business, creating the Schmidt & Ault Paper Co. When Schmidt’s grandfather died in 1923, Schmidt’s father took over the business.
The mill employed hundreds of York residents back in the day, but for Schmidt, the mill was his life. The family constantly talked about the business, often singing the praises of “The Cadillac” of the plant, Machine #5—its delivery required a trip through the Panama Canal followed by a train pulling 90 cars before it reached York.
When Schmidt left the mill in 1972, it was the last time he’d walk inside for nearly 50 years. The site later became Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. In 2000, the company closed the mill citing market conditions.
For Schmidt, who admits to being sentimental about the site’s past, a completely revitalized area is a sight he’s eager to see along his regular drives into the City. “Life moves on,” he says. “You have to look forward, not backward.”
Looking ahead, Gunter-Smith says, “The concept of Knowledge Park is something typically found at institutions much larger than York College, which is what makes the endeavor so unique. It’s truly a win-win for everyone. It’s really special that this is going to be transformed in a way that serves both the College and the community. That’s why this works well. That’s why it will be so successful here.”