BARNEGAT – The legend that the school’s namesake continues to haunt the abandoned Edwards School might spook some people. However, local school officials fear something less supernatural but still frightening actually inhabits the iconic structure.
“The Edwards School is beyond repair and is a safety hazard,” said Barnegat Board of Education President Sean O’Brien. “…The building is old and possibly contains hazardous materials.”
School board members approved a Hazardous Materials Inspection of the Elizabeth V. Edwards School at their October monthly meeting. The contract not to exceed $10,570 to TTI Environmental represents the first step in the district’s repurposing plans.
The district previously invited both local government authorities and members of the public to discuss options for the school. The most recent reports submitted by the Speizele Architectural Group suggest the least expensive choice would be to completely demolish the site at a cost of $780,000.
Other alternatives would be to keep the building facade and renovate it for $21 million or spend $25 million to demolish and rebuild.
“The school district needs the grounds for transportation and fuel,” O’Brien shared. “Several organizations use the facility regularly for flag football and other sports.”
According to O’Brien, the district hopes to partner with private local investors to make it a park. They would like to somehow use some of the bones of the building to memorialize the past. Township leaders have offered their help in the process.
“The township is willing to use $100,000 of open space money to make a contribution to the site,” said Mayor Albert “Al” Bille. “The money would be available if the Board of Education decides to put a park there.”
Asbestos remediation and lead removal appear to be among the primary concerns regarding hazardous materials within the building. Authorities suggest there might be other harmful contaminants based on preliminary investigation.
An extremely foul odor permeates the air upon entrance to the school on North Main Street. Several windows boarded up from the outside brick exterior deter from the structure built in 1931. Students have not occupied the inner classrooms since as far back as 2003.
Nearly a decade ago, previous school administrators and a prior school board decided to shut down all utilities in the building. Still waters routinely flood the basement to levels exceeding six feet. Paint peeling from the walls and ceilings expose cracks and further evidence of decay.
Signs posted in the darkened auditorium forewarn of unstable floorboards, already showing evidence of collapse. An old piano left behind remains positioned where some music teacher once accompanied children on stage.
Green blackboards contain dated chalk signatures of assorted visitors to the Edwards School, including the name Dave Tango, a reputed ghostbuster. Tango visited the abandoned building in 2014 as part of the Syfy Network’s Ghost Hunters series.
“I admit there is ‘something’ to that place,” said Bill Cox, who once served as the school district’s transportation coordinator. “I experienced it many times.”
The takeaway from two different paranormal investigations is that Elizabeth Edwards, the school’s original principal, continues to visit the building. Cox, a retired New York homicide detective found his own experiences counterintuitive to his Catholic faith.
Drew Washburn of the Barnegat Township School District’s maintenance department is one of the few people to still visit the inner halls of the Edwards School. He denied any encounters with the late schoolmarm as he and O’Brien provided a tour of the premises.
An eerie swishing sound subtly breezed from another area of the building as Washburn led the way down the hallway. The maintenance worker easily explained the distraction as he pointed to a window fan that blew with the outside winds.
Washburn and his colleagues perform tasks as needed at the Edwards School. They’ve pumped out the basement numerous times. And, then there’s always the risk of intruders.
“We had to install cameras outside because of vandalism,” said Washburn. “People keep trying to get in here.”
The school district will determine the next course of action after the hazmat assessment. O’Brien, who grew up in Barnegat, remembers his own days of playing basketball on the Edwards School stage. He’s not keen on demolishing the structure, but realizes the cost outweighs any chance of revitalizing the structure.
“If they (the former administration) kept the building occupied with even a couple of offices,” said O’Brien. “We would have been grandfathered in for accessibility requirements alone. It has been abandoned for so long to bring it up to current code just is too expensive.”