The old Suncrest Primary is coming down

A poignant thing happened on the way to the start of the demolition at the former Suncrest Primary School on Thursday morning.

Before the heavy equipment showed up, a handful of teachers who spent their formative years as educators in front of their classrooms at the school on leafy Junior Avenue – did.

A smattering of their former students joined them on the cold morning.

One was Beth Bossio, who went to Suncrest Primary from 1987-80.

Bossio grew up in the neighborhood – and stayed.

She lives down the street from the building. Her son also went to school there.

In fact, it was Bossio who organized the teachers for one final answering of roll, as it were.

“We just wanted to get people together one more time,” she said.

“While it still looks like this,” she added, “and before it becomes whatever it’s going to become.”

That discussion had been in the air since the last day of school in 2016, when Suncrest Primary was shuttered and earth started moving at the end of Collins Ferry Road for a new Suncrest Elementary, which opened a year later.

But what to do with a now-empty building in a prime location in Morgantown?

That was the assignment that followed for the district and its elected Board of Education members.

Suncrest Primary, like a lot of little West Virginia schools in a lot of little West Virginia neighborhoods, was the social epicenter of the community.

You went there, and your kids went there.

Your grandkids, too, maybe.

There were Christmas pageants, spring concerts, bake sales and parent-teacher conferences – where your old teacher may have offered up a twinkle or two, while educating you on the fact that your kid acts just like you did when you were that age.

Students, and generations.

Up in the morning and off to school

According to past reporting from The Dominion Post, Suncrest Primary was put up in 1939, with additions tacked on the 1950s, and again in the 1990s, as the neighborhood grew.

For a time, it housed administrative offices.

After Suncrest Elementary opened, the district planned to use the old building as an outreach center to assist students at risk of not finishing high school, but that was shelved after protest from the neighborhood.

Like most facilities of its vintage, Suncrest Primary was built to last – but not evolve.

An antiquated boiler system needed extensive repairs.

The roof needed replaced and the building sustained extensive water damage from its upper floors to its basement.

Asbestos, a fire-safety agent used through the 1970s before its health hazards were known, would have to be removed for the school to make current code.

The Risk Management Insurance Agency, which covers Mon’s buildings, gave a direct message to Superintendent Eddie Campbell Jr.

“They basically said, ‘You’re gonna have to get rid of it.’ To them, it was useless.”

That’s because of the exorbitant cost of renovating the place to make it operational by today’s building standards.

Forget “renovating,” he said. “Razing,” is more like it.

“You’d have to raze it, like we’re doing,” the superintendent said. “Then, you’d just have to build something new in its place.”

For a time, youngsters were still around the building, romping on the playground equipment that was left on the campus.

That stopped, though, after Campbell decreed the equipment unsafe.

Bossio and others hoped Suncrest Primary could be transformed into a true community center, such as what happened to the old Woodburn School when Eastwood Elementary went in – but that takes backing, she said.

It also takes a building not as far gone structurally, Campbell said.

The heartbeat of the hallway

For now, the demolition continues.

Reclaim Co., the firm doing the tear-down, estimates that work will take around 60 days.

Once that’s done, Campbell said, grass will eventually be planted, so the place where a school once stood can be transformed into a green space, where kids can romp and people can walk their dogs.

“It’ll be a public place,” Campbell said. “We won’t have a fence around it.”

That’s in accordance with the 1925 deed to the district from the now-defunct Monongahela Development Co. – which stipulated the expanse be used either for a school building a public park-type setting.

One of the other, the document said. If the school goes away, the green expanse takes its place.

“That’s what we’re doing right now,” the superintendent said.

The district doesn’t have current plans for a new facility, Campbell said, but it also doesn’t want to let it go for its key location.

Bossio and others who didn’t want to see Suncrest Primary come down are still debating infrastructure semantics as to whether a green space constitutes a park.

Still, she said, she’ll take it.

“We just want the property to stay in the neighborhood for the kids and community,” she said.

Campbell, meanwhile, said pains were made to save irreplaceable plaques and other artifacts integral to the life of the school.

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