Crews ready bulldozers for two Newport elementary schools - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

Crews ready bulldozers for two Newport elementary schools

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NEWPORT, AR (KAIT) – Bulldozers will soon reduce two elementary schools in Newport to rubble.

The G.F. Castleberry Elementary School and Gibbs Albright Elementary School have sat vacant ever since the district built the new Newport Elementary School three years ago.

Superintendent Larry Bennett says the district always planned to tear down the two schools but decided to move forward with demolition now because the buildings have become not only a liability but also an eyesore in recent months.

"People understand that we have to move forward. We have to have progression," Bennett said. "Due to the fact that we can't maintain these buildings, we can't put dollars back into it, we've already received some vandalism – we do not want these buildings to be an eyesore to this community."

He says the district has given the contractor until September 1 to tear down both buildings and haul away what's left. Crews have kept busy the past few weeks prepping both spaces to meet that demolition date. They've had to securely remove asbestos in both buildings and empty classrooms that are still full of memories for former students like Kenny Black.

"You like to hang onto your old traditions and your old schools," Black said, "but that's major progress for us to have the new school."

Black, who's now the principal at Newport Junior High School, was a member of the first class to move into Castleberry back in 1960.

"I remember my first grade class, we had little small desks, and the teacher asked us to pick those up," he said. "We actually carried our little individual desks over into our new classroom.

"Being six years old," he added, "you were excited to get to move into the brand new school."

He revisited the school – lovingly known as ‘the doughnut school' because of its circular layout – a few days ago, as crews finish removing all the doors, glass and other materials that will require proper disposal after the demolition.

The district expects crews to begin tearing down Castleberry any day now. They will then move onto Albright Elementary, where they are still working to remove asbestos.

"I hate to see anything like that to be torn down," Newport Mayor David Stewart said, "but I trust that the school administration looked at everything thoroughly and I'm good with their decision."

Stewart spent his first years in school at Castleberry, completing first through sixth grades there. His children even attended ‘the doughnut school,' too.

He says he's glad that the district decided to spare three buildings at Castleberry, including the tornado shelter/safe room that now opens to the public during severe weather. The district will not tear down the tornado shelter at Albright either.

While many residents have watched the buildings being basically stripped to their shells, Black says he plans to be there the day Castleberry is actually brought to the ground.

"It's sad to lose an old building," he said, "but I love the progress that we're making."

The superintendent says the district will maintain the lot where Castleberry now stands, but it plans to convert the Albright site into additional parking for athletic events.

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