Robbinsville Township demolished a historic school building last month in order to make room for a park and a housing subdivision.
The 111-year-old Windsor School was knocked down in late April, a decision reached after township officials said they had extensive discussions on what to do with the township-owned property. Built in 1909, the school in the Village of Windsor has had generations of families pass through its doors.
Located at 16 School Drive, the school sat on less than an acre of land. Next to the school building are fields used by Robbinsville Little League.
The school has gone unused since 2014. Prior to then, the Robbinsville School District had been using the building to house some classes of elementary school students. Windsor School had held classes from grades K through 8 in its early years, and was home to industrial arts and home economics courses, as well as an occupations program for students.
The school property was bought by Robbinsville Township in 2017 from the school district for $231,000. After the Robbinsville Board of Education conducted a thorough assessment for keeping and retrofitting the Windsor School in March 2016, the decision was made to sell the property. The cost of repair to meet ADA compliance and make repairs such as mold and asbestos remediation was found to be over $2 million.
Instead of the property becoming fully developed, Mayor Dave Fried and the township council opted to purchase it.
“The township recognized there was no easy choice and understood the concerns of the Windsor community in their efforts to preserve the character of the area,” business administrator Joy Tozzi said. “The township recognized the loss this would be for the community, losing the green space and grounds that were currently being used as open space for the community to new homes.”
Discussions about what the area could be used for have been going on for more than a year. With the mayor’s support, Tozzi and councilman Ronald Witt met with Windsor community members to understand what the locals would like to see happen with the property.
The plan is to subdivide a small portion of the property to make back the initial cost, putting the majority of the open plot towards green space.
“Early discussions include a butterfly/flower garden, a natural playground, which would incorporate nature and water elements, a picnic area with covering…a half court of basketball, a recreation field as well as beautification of trees and flowers,” Tozzi said. “Construction also would include incorporating bricks from the Windsor School as a nod to its rich history.”
The demolition crew was able to preserve the school’s concrete sign reading “Washington Township Public School 1909.” Utilizing remnants of the school building is planned as part of the coming park.
Before it was demolished, the township helped residents remove objects from the school, including two decorative iron heating grates, several stair railings and the school bell from the wall.
Some residents came out to say goodbye to the iconic building on the demolition day. Those who have been a part of the Windsor and Robbinsville communities for years hold many memories with the fallen school.
Dennis Symons, a township resident of more than 50-years, went to see the Windsor School demolition when he saw word of it coming down on Facebook.
Symons recalled attending industrial arts classes and home economics in the building during his sixth, seventh and eighth grade years.
Welding, woodwork and a dark room for developing film were located on the first floor, while kitchens and an arts room for activities such as crafts and sewing were on the upper floor.
In his time spent at Windsor School, Symons enjoyed the occupations program, and got to develop his first roll of 110 mm and 135 mm film. Along with his locally based photography company, Dennis Symons Photography, Symons works part-time for Upper Freehold Township, publishes a website called MidJersey News and retired as captain from the Robbinsville Township Fire Department after serving for 30 years.
It wasn’t just his own memories that were held in Windsor School.
Symons’ mother had attended in the 1940s, when the school was home to kindergarten through eighth grade and didn’t have running water or an indoor toilet. Back when the area was mostly farmland, when the school needed desks, Symons’ grandmother helped to raise funds, while his grandfather lent a hand building the desks, Symons said in an account written for his website.
Another town resident arrived at the demolition site at 7 a.m. and didn’t leave until around 3:30 p.m. Janice Ford has lived in Windsor for 60 years, and has always had a love of history and old buildings. She was sad to see one of the town’s historic buildings go but waited patiently on demolition day until the Washington Township sign was safely taken down.
Ford attended Windsor School for a short time, as part of her first-grade year, before transferring to Sharon School.
She hopes to see a monument using remnants from the school take shape. Since the demolition day, Ford has revisited the site almost every day to see what progress has been made.
“It was just a special place,” she said.