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By Margaret Toal
For the Record 

WOC will not abandon North school

 

Last updated 4/30/2024 at 9:09pm

The former Jones Elementary School on Fourteenth Street in Orange was sold by the WO-C school district. It served as a church and was then abandoned. The current WO-C Superintendent, Dr. Rickie Harris, announced that if voters approve a bond for a new early learning center, the old North school will not be left vacant.

The former Jones Elementary School on Fourteenth Street in Orange was sold by the WO-C school district. It served as a church and was then abandoned. The current WO-C Superintendent, Dr. Rickie Harris, announced that if voters approve a bond for a new early learning center, the old North school will not be left vacant.

The West Orange-Cove school district superintendent had good news for Orange residents concerned about the construction of a new North Early Learning Center.

Dr. Rickie Harris Tuesday announced the district will not vacate the current North school on Cordrey Avenue, but will "repurpose it" for other district uses.

In the past 25 years, the school district has sold five old schools, with four becoming abandoned by their buyers, leaving cities to deal with the vacant and decaying buildings.

"We don't need any more abandoned schools," said Kelvin Knauf, director of community planning for the city of Orange. He said the state should pass a law making school districts demolish any schools that are no longer in use.

The school district is having a bond election Saturday with voters to determine whether the district can sell $72 million in bonds, with the majority to be used to build a new early learning center. The district has purchased acreage for the proposed school behind the current West Orange-Stark Elementary in Pinehurst.

Knauf oversees the city's code compliance division and the zoning department. He's had to deal with vacated school buildings for the years he's been with the city.

Currently, the city has ordered the old Jones Elementary School to be demolished by its current owner. Knauf said the city has gotten an estimate that demolition will cost $225,000, including asbestos removal.

The school was built by the old Orange Independent School District in the early 1950s during the post-war Baby Boom years. Another wing was soon added to the neighborhood school that served kindergarten through sixth grades. It was named for George D. Jones, a school board president.

The school remained opened with varying grades of elementary ages until 1993. A couple of years later, the WO-C district then opened an alternative center at Jones. Then the school was closed.

Some 20 years ago, Jones school was sold during a bidding process to a non-denominational church, which thrived for a few years. The church even had a wing for a charter school. But financial problems caused the church to disband and the building was abandoned.

Today, vines cover walls and grow through broken windows. Tallow and sweet gun trees grow through holes in the roof. Lately, the acreage of the playground area to the north has grown five feet high, but has recently been mowed.

Knauf said the current owner has brought prospective buyers to visit his office to talk about possibilities for the property, but no one has purchased the old school.

Knauf has dealt with the problem before. He oversaw the demolition of the old Cove school on DuPont Drive.

That school had also been built in the post-war years, but by the old Cove rural school district, from the days where the historic neighborhood was unincorporated and had its own school district.

The school and rural district was added to the West Orange District in the early 1960s to make the West Orange-Cove Consolidated Independent School District.

Cove school was used as an elementary school until 1985, when the district closed it. About five years later, the district opened its first alternative center for students with behavior problems at Cove. Then it closed after another six years.

The school district sold the Cove complex through bidding in the early 2000s. It housed a church and then a business before becoming abandoned.

The Orange City Council decided to pay to demolish the school. Knauf said the costs were about $225,000.

The city is in the process of developing the site of the old school into the Cove Recreation Center. A playground and picnic area have already been installed and the city has several other projects, including a walking trail, planned.

The city of West Orange also has two vacant school buildings from WO-C. One was built on Western Avenue in the 1950s as West Orange High School and through the years also served as a middle school and intermediate school.

The other school in West Orange is Lorena Oates Elementary, built in the early 1960s and named for a teacher who died young. The school is on Newton Street north of the WO-S High.

The two schools were sold a decade ago to a group that was supposed to turn the buildings into private schools. The schools never opened. Oates school had become overgrown and a number of windows broken out. Recently, the property has been fenced in with 'No Trespassing' signs installed. The windows have been boarded over.

The school on Western Avenue has been kept mowed, though vines are growing up walls. A 'for sale' sign is on a building.

 

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