Facing demolition, Rehoboth Public School yielding legacy items

September 20, 2019

Rehoboth Public School has a date with a wrecking crew before the year is out. In the decades that have passed since masons mortared its 1939 cornerstone into place, thousands of young people have been educated in its classrooms.

Before the demolition crew starts leveling the building, much will have been taken, both for repurposing and as a reminder of the building that has meant so much to so many.

According to Brian Bassett, director of capital projects for Cape Henlopen School District, elements of the art deco-style facade of the building facing Silver Lake will be preserved. The three words of the building’s official name - REHOBOTH PUBLIC SCHOOL - along with the 1939 cornerstone will each become one of the faces of a four-sided memorial archway over the sidewalk leading to Turtle Bridge. That’s the wooden bridge over the upper reaches of Silver Lake where dozens of snack-hungry turtles and 2-foot-long carp have been entertaining passing students and visitors for ages.

That alumni walkway, said Bassett, will be edged with the distinctive sand-colored bricks cemented and trowled into place so many years ago. He said the demolition crew has agreed to handle the bricks carefully. The intent is to salvage as many as possible for that walkway and other walkways around the outdoor pickleball, tennis and basketball courts to be constructed on the cleared site left by their handiwork.

More of the bricks will be used for a new sidewalk connecting the outdoor recreation site to the elementary school playground. Still more, he said, will be used to build benches and knee walls along the walkways where people can sit. Preservation plans also include maintaining the stately, shade-providing oaks between the old school and the lake.

Pieces of the school’s wooden gymnasium floor have made their way into the alumni room of the new, nearby Rehoboth Elementary School to make its entire floor. Library shelves have also made their way into that room for displays, as have the glassed cases from the old school’s main lobby.

Preservation, recycling and repurposing don’t end there. Bassett said Cape district employees have removed many desks, tables and other items to backfill where needed in some of the district’s new schools. Security cameras, access systems and whiteboards have been retained as spares, and a number of the school’s alumni have asked for classroom doors.

“As a state-owned building, we were required to make surplus items available to other districts and charter schools,” said Bassett. “Groups from Indian River and charter schools came through. One group, for example, claimed all the bathroom partitions.”

Wiring in the building and coils from the mechanical systems all have value. The demolition contractor will get those items after they are exposed in the dismantling. “Because of the salvage value, and the fact the contractor could do the work in the summer when there were few people on site, we were able to get a relatively low demolition cost, so everybody wins,” said Bassett.

F.R. Brinke, a wrecking crew out of New Jersey, bid $459,000 and won the demolition contract for the former Rehoboth elementary and high school buildings.

Bassett said actual dismantling of Rehoboth Public School will begin as soon as an asbestos-abatement crew finishes that specialized work. The crew has until Nov. 30 to finish. “We’re hoping they will finish sooner so we can get moving on the final phase of the Rehoboth project.”  

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