BARNEGAT– Some old-time locals see plans to demolish the Elizabeth V. Edwards School as erasing a part of their childhood memories.
The good news is that a piece of history may stay in place – even as most of the original structure comes down. Even more exciting is that the efforts of a small group of Barnegat High School students could act as the framework for what comes next.
“Our mindset was to do what we could to preserve the building and do something for our students,” said Superintendent of Schools Dr. Brian Latwis. “Unfortunately, we are at a point where the building is deteriorating and it’s a safety concern as it’s no longer structurally sound inside.”
Latwis said he and members of the Board of Education recognized that change was hard and wanted to find a means to preserve the legacy of the Edwards School. One of the ideas was to provide future generations with the benefit of a park that also featured an amphitheater.
Over the years, the Barnegat Township School District has received numerous awards for its arts programs. The amphitheater would allow students to perform their craft on a spectacular stage within the community.
School officials came up with a unique approach to drawing up preliminary plans for their vision. Engineers and architects typically utilize computerized-aided design (CAD) in place of manual drafting of construction projects. It just so happens that Barnegat High School offers a class in Advanced Computerized-Aided Design.
Within a little more than two weeks, Gabriel Betancourt, grade 12; Morgan Dobbin, grade 11, Sofia Arizarry, grade 11, and Anothony Pedatella, grade 11 had a design ready for presentation at the Board of Education meeting.
“The project was for students to design what the Edwards School might look like in the future,” shared Dr. Krystyne Kennedy, Supervisor of Science, Technology & STEM (5-12). “Students researched elements that would attract people to use a park and then were able to use Google Earth to look at the satellite dimensions of the park.”
Louis Foster, who teaches the Advanced CAD class, provided at least one of the challenges students encountered in putting together the design.
“Our major obstacle was to determine how to keep the busing lane available without detracting from the overall park ambiance,” Foster said. “We played with several locations for the parking lot and determined that by using the area to the left of the busing lane, we could save space and not interfere with the beautiful, mature trees that already exist in the front of the building.”
Students became intrigued by different aspects of the plan and conducted research. They each produced individual designs that Foster combined in a collaborative Google Sketch Up rendition.
“One student researched the historical significance of the Edwards School and looked into possible elements of preservation and noise cancelling,” explained Kennedy. “Another researched native plants that would attract butterflies to a butterfly garden.”
Foster said that when students explored different amphitheater designs, they noticed many had subterranean stages where the seating rises out of the ground.
“Sofia Irizarry mentioned that she thought the school had a basement, which would allow us to locate the amphitheater stage and seating there,” Foster shared. “We figured this may save a considerable amount of labor and money because very little, if any, fill would have to be trucked in to fill the hole where the basement is located.”
Those who treasure the legacy the Edwards School brings to the historic Barnegat downtown area will surely appreciate what the students hoped to be part of the proposed design. While they would like the front façade of the building to remain intact, the cost might be prohibitive. The idea offers inspiration for the preparation for project.
Barnegat Board of Education President Sean O’Brien grew up in Barnegat and easily admits he wishes the building could stay intact and revamped. He created a special committee to discuss the demise of the school building and invited the public to learn of options available other than its demolition.
The public meetings were scarcely attended, although some residents now appear disappointed that the historic building will soon disappear from the local landscape.
Neglect appears to be a primary factor in the downfall of the building from at least 2003. That year, the district stopped classroom instruction at the Edwards School. The following year, the district opened its newly built high school.
A few years later, school district authorities decided to shut down all utilities and abandoned any upkeep to the premises.
Prior to deciding the building needed to come down, the school board weighed other options. A year ago, the Speizele Architectural Group estimated that gutting and revamping the building would cost $21 million. Razing the building entirely and rebuilding would shoot the cost up an additional $4 million. Speizele approximated at that time that it would be a little less than a million dollars to completely demolish the building.
The contract for the demolition of the Elizabeth V. Edwards School was awarded to Richard E. Pierson Construction Company in the total bid amount of $1.17 million.
The Barnegat Board of Education considered two other contractors in making their decision, with Pierson coming in with the lowest bid. F.R. Beinke Wrecking’s bid came in at $1.46 million; Two Brothers Contracting submitted a bid for $1.52 million.
At the May Barnegat Township Committee meeting, Fred Rubinstein advised the local governing body of his concerns regarding the demolition of the Edwards School. Rubinstein previously served as the president of the Board of Education and is on the Planning Board.
“When asbestos was discovered in the building, I was the president of the Board of Ed,” said Rubinstein. “…Our big concern is that simple asbestos abatement is not a simple matter. If it is not done properly, and any residual waste is not removed, we’re going to have people in that area, and there is a potential for danger.”
O’Brien said that the school board did order an environmental report and is confident that the contractor will ensure public safety and health are a priority when it comes to demolishing the building.
Legend has it that the ghost of the building’s namesake continues to inhabit the school. Elizabeth V. Edwards was the school’s principal and a popular educator. While the belief in the supernatural is surely controversial, perhaps Edwards will show some signs of encouragement as students take to enjoying the place she so loved once upon a time.