History in flames
A September blaze destroyed Barnard Elementary, but its rich past won’t be forgotten.
Barnard Elementary in the 1930s
Midtown’s Barnard Elementary School had just found a new purpose when a massive blaze in September destroyed the historic building.
Constructed in 1925, the school was closed following the 2010-2011 school year as a part of Tulsa Public Schools’ Project Schoolhouse. The building remained vacant for a year but never fell out of favor with the neighborhood.
The rich history of the school building and its surrounding residential area played a large part in the final decision to lease the building to the Tulsa School of Arts and Sciences for the 2012-2013 school year, according to TPS Superintendent Dr. Keith Ballard.
“Barnard is one of the oldest schools in Tulsa,” Ballard said at the time. “I consider it to be a very romantic building, and I always felt that we should find the right purpose for it.”
TSAS Director Eric Doss felt similarly about the building. His grandmother attended Barnard Elementary in the 1930s.
TPS began remodeling the school in July, and the band room and chemistry lab were the last few projects remaining when classes began, according to Doss.
“Barnard was a very classic building, but it was quirky,” Doss says. “It … had been kept up in a nice way. When we moved into the building, it was a building that we loved … We had planned on making (Barnard) our home for as long as it could be.”
However, on Wednesday, Sept. 5, a tremendous fire destroyed the school.
The fire apparently began overnight, burning small and slow. By early morning the fire had spread, and when Doss arrived at the school building, he says it became clear it would be destroyed.
Ballard was on the scene that morning, as well. When it became clear the structure was not salvageable, Ballard and Doss began looking for a new building to house TSAS students and teachers for the remainder of the school year.
Their quick response made it possible for TSAS students and teachers to find their new home at Sequoyah Elementary the following day.
While no students or staff were in the building at the time of the fire, eight Tulsa firefighters were injured during the Barnard blaze in a series of backdrafts, according to a Tulsa Fire Department press release.
Upon investigation, the TFD deemed the fire accidental, resulting from construction related to an exhaust vent installation in the lab area. The Barnard site was equipped with three monitored smoke detectors, but the nature of the fire and its location were not sufficient to activate those alarms, according to the release.
The school remains were demolished Oct. 11, and TPS is still deciding what to do with the site. The district could elect to find another purpose for the land and rebuild, or TPS could sell it, according to Ballard. Regardless, Ballard has made it clear the community will be included in the decision, which he believes may come in early 2013.
“I’ve always wanted to be a good neighbor,” he says. “We care what (the Barnard-area residents) think, and we won’t do anything without consulting them.”
If there is one bright note, Barnard’s history won’t be forgotten. Before closing in 2011, the school donated more than 700 photographs and artifacts to the Tulsa Historical Society and Museum.
Shortly after the fire, THS displayed various school artifacts — items it will maintain in its archives for future Tulsans to enjoy.