Demolition of school building ‘bittersweet’

Erwin alumni gather to say goodbye

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The word “bittersweet” was one used often by attendees of Thursday night’s Erwin Elementary School final open house and community walk-through. When the final school bell rings Tuesday afternoon, students will leave the 94-year-old red brick building for the last time before it is torn down to make way for a new modern facility that will be constructed on the same site.

“I have mixed emotions,” Jean Bradley of Erwin said. “It’s a sad thing and it’s a good thing — they need to modernize.”

Bradley, along with her husband, Jim, both graduated from Erwin High School in 1966.

“They need a more serviceable facility,” Jim Bradley said.

Last month, the Harnett County School Board voted to officially close Erwin Elementary and move all students in August to Gentry Primary until a new school can be built. This could take up to two years. Mobile classrooms have already started being placed on the grounds of Gentry, located just 1.8 miles away.

Harnett County Commissioners voted earlier this year to officially approve the spending of $23.4 million to replace the old building with a new school.

When complete, the new school will be used by Gentry and Erwin Elementary students. The current school campus at the Gentry site on Maynard Lake Road will be closed; however, the building could be used by the school system for another purpose.

Built around 1925, the current Erwin Elementary building was formerly the location of Erwin High School. In 1985, Erwin was consolidated with Dunn and Coats high schools to form Triton High School located on Maynard Lake Road, Erwin.

Erwin Elementary later moved into the high school building. The original elementary building was located at the current campus on the corner of Denim Drive and North 10th Street. That building has since been torn down.

Erwin Historical Society President Si Harrington III, who attended first through 12th grades at the Erwin school, graduating in 1967, said there is a map from 1925 at the Erwin History Room showing the school located there in 1925.

He said in a principal’s report from 1924-25, Principal Thomas N. Sprinkle in his general remarks said the new athletic field was opened on May 1, 1925. Sprinkle reported “the new high school building will be ready for opening for fall valued [at] $95,000.”

On Thursday, Mac McCaskill of Dunn, talked with Glenn Wade of Erwin about his “trifecta” at the Erwin school. He said he attended elementary school there, became a teacher in 1977 and was later principal from 1992-95. Wade said he graduated in 1954 and was a teacher there in the ’90s. He remembered playing football, basketball and baseball under coach Johnny Pecora.

“Twenty-five years ago we had ceiling fans falling down,” McCaskill said. “It needs it [torn down] with these old floors and all.”

Many were commenting on the old wood floors, which, according to Harrington are the original floors. He said he overheard many people saying they wish they could have those floors.

“The floors still creek like they did 50 years ago,” Jean Bradley said.

“Bittersweet,” said Tina Johnson of Erwin, a 1982 graduate, who was there with her husband, Jay, a member of the Class of 1985. “A lot of memories, but it’s progress. You have to be safe for the children.”

Class of 1977 graduates Tim Marbell and Walter Eason remembered times spent playing football at Erwin High School, particularly being part of the 1976-77 Eastern State Championship team.

Many came out dressed in the school colors of red and white, and could be seen posing for pictures with former classmates. One was even wearing an old Eastern State Championship football team jacket.

“A lot of history,” Harrington said. “A lot of memories. I went through it and just about everywhere I looked I had a memory.”

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