IRONBOUND, Newark (PIX11) — For nearly a century-and-a-half, a K-through-8 school has been a hub of the Ironbound community in Newark, New Jersey.
Now, an early morning fire on Monday in one of the main areas of the Wilson Avenue School has some families wondering if it can open safely in time for teachers to arrive on Tuesday and for students to arrive next week.
Neighbors said they awoke around 2:30 a.m. to see some Newark Fire Department engines and other vehicles responding to the blaze. The fire department, however, said in a statement that firefighters responded “at approximately 3 a.m.”
Residents said that the school, which takes up almost an entire city block, has been a central part of the Ironbound since the facility opened in 1881.
“A lot of memories at this school that I feel. A lot of memories,” said Carlos Rocha, who graduated from eighth grade at the school in 1979. “I was surprised that this happened.”
He was not the only local, long-standing resident surprised by the blaze that brought 10 fire units to the scene.
Joseph Barreiro lives right across the street from the school, which Wilson Avenue and Ferry, Alyea, and Patterson Streets bound.
“My father starts banging on my window and says, ‘The school’s on fire,'” Barreiro said. “I look out the window and [said], ‘Oh my God!”
Barreiro also graduated from the school in the late 1970s.
“It hurts,” he said. “It definitely hurts.”
After 142 years, the Wilson Avenue School has become a centerpiece of the neighborhood, said Barreiro.
“This is our history, our life,” he told PIX11 News. “It’s kind of our second home.”
Barreiro’s mother, Maria, not only graduated in 1954 from the school that was partially boarded up on Monday afternoon after the fire. She’d also worked as a teacher’s aide there.
“I feel very sad about it,” she said about the fire.
Still, she tried to look on the lighter side of the situation.
“Thank God they got in, and it was confined to these two rooms,” she said, referring to two rooms on the school’s first floor where firefighters had entered and doused the flames.
Families said the main fire damage was to a multi-purpose room and a classroom.
However, classrooms below the rooms that the fire consumed were also damaged by the water needed to battle the blaze. The school’s library is also below the fire-damaged rooms. It’s not clear how extensive the damage is, but on Monday afternoon, firefighters and school maintenance workers opened almost all of the school windows to try and air out the smoke.
It left a third-generation student wondering what would happen next.
“I don’t want to go virtual or have to go to a different school,” said Dylan Barreiro, an incoming eighth grader.
He and his fellow classmates are scheduled to begin classes on the day after Labor Day.
In a statement, Newark Public Schools said, in part:
The district began working diligently to ensure the building is safe and ready to receive students and staff next week. Staff, students, and their families will be updated of any relevant next steps, as the first day of school is Tuesday, September 5, 2023. We are thankful to our security and facilities staff, and grateful of the heroic efforts of the Newark Fire Department. The teachers’ union said that teachers are tentatively expected to start training on Tuesday at a different school, while the Wilson Avenue School is being prepared for full faculty, staff and students to arrive next week.Newark Public Schools’ spokesperson