ALLENTON — A suspected arson at a long-standing Robeson County school building has evoked fond memories and sadness.
The old building, which sits at the intersection of N.C. 211 and Old Allenton Road in the Allenton community, was the first school Erica Locklear ever attended.
“The elementary school wasn’t ready for us, so we had class in that gym,” Locklear said. “East Robeson wasn’t finished. I remember feeling like it was huge.”
The abandoned brick building, which is seven miles east of Lumberton, was gutted Friday night and into Saturday morning, taking the roof and many memories with it.
Locklear, who now lives in Lumberton, has fond memories, and nerve-wracking ones, of activities in the gym.
“Standing on that stage for spelling bees was scary,” she said. “I remember praying for a word I knew. It makes me sad to see it. It’s like someone burned my memories.”
Tom Taylor, who is fire chief of the Allenton Volunteer Fire Department, which is station just west of the old school building, believes the fire was intentionally set. His volunteer firefighters and those from East Howellsville battled the blaze.
The building is currently owned by the Robeson County Recreation Department. It stands next to two baseball fields, one with a scoreboard cheering on the Lumberton High Pirates. The gym is all that remains of the school structure.
“I was so sad when I saw the picture of the flames on Facebook,” said Ted Watts, of Fayetteville. “I went to my first school dance in there. I practiced basketball, too.”
The building stopped being used more than a decade ago. Its most recent usage was for community sports, mainly basketball games. At one time it also was a satellite facility for Robeson Community College. It was also once Allenton Middle School.
Thieves had stripped the copper from a heating unit, Taylor said. The damaged unit was left unattended and dripped water for some time. The water stagnated and a mold problem resulted, rendering the facility unusable. The cost to rehabilitate the building was deemed too high.
The future of the building, now just walls and a large brick chimney, is bleak, but the building will remain standing while the fire investigation is conducted.
“We won’t know (the building’s future) until they get through with their investigation,” said Taylor, who is chairman of the Robeson County Board of Commissioners. “We have turned it over to the Sheriff’s Office.”
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @MikeGellatly