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Firefighters responded to a fire in the early-morning hours of Jan. 29 at the old William H. Farquhar Middle School on Batchellors Forest Road.

The community has been expecting the old William H. Farquhar Middle School building to be demolished, but the Jan. 29 fire that caused the gymnasium to collapse, among other damage, is not the way they wanted to say goodbye.“We all knew it was going to be demolished, but no one wanted to see an incident like what happened this past weekend,” Principal Joel Beidleman said. He said that on the morning after the fire, the students were not as impacted as some of the staff members. “Kids are pretty resilient, but some of the staff that had been here for a long time expressed concern,” he said. He added: “I feel their pain as they mourn — that building was near and dear to their hearts, and had a big impact on their lives.” Beidleman said many people have reached out to him, including the Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) central office, former principals and members of the community. He also spoke with firefighters who had been on the scene of the fire who had attended the school. “So many have reached out to offer support and we really appreciate that,” he said. Former students gathered at the old school the morning after the fire, some of them weeping. Others responded to social media posts, including the Facebook Page of The Greater Olney News, expressing sadness. The cause of a fire remained under investigation as of The Greater Olney News press time last week. At about 1:15 a.m. Jan. 29, firefighters responded to a fire in progress at the former middle school building at 16915 Batchellors Forest Road. Firefighters arrived to find heavy fire conditions, with flames through the roof of the gymnasium, which eventually collapsed. A second alarm was called, bringing more than 85 firefighters to the scene. In August, a new Farquhar Middle School opened on the property adjacent to the former school, at 17017 Batchellors Forest Road. The new building was not affected by the fire. Montgomery County Fire and Rescue spokesman Pete Piringer said last week it was still an active investigation. “It’s a process of elimination,” he said. “There was no power in the building and most of the recyclables and valuables had already been taken out of the building in order to proceed with the demolition.” Piringer said it is likely that there are security cameras in the area of the school, and reviewing them would be part of the investigation. In August, when the new school opened, Beidleman said that demolition of the old school was set to begin in the fall. At the time of the fire, a chain link fence surrounded the building and all windows and doors had been removed. Beidleman said last week that demolition began in the fall, as scheduled. “There is a lot to that process, including hazardous material abatement, rodent control, salvageable materials recovery and utility disconnection,” he said. “There have been a lot of different things happening, but we are moving forward.” Montgomery County Public Schools spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala confirmed that before the fire, the demolition application notice was posted and the school system had begun the work. “The principal says that they have received the demo permit and Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Services is recommending the demolition be completed as soon as possible,” she said. “They will receive a schedule from the company supervising the demolition this week.” On Feb. 2, Beidleman said that depending on the weather, the demolition of the existing building was scheduled to start within the next 10 days and take one to two weeks to complete. “Much of the demolished materials will be recycled so the sorting and removal of the debris is scheduled to be completed by late March/early April, depending again on the weather,” he said. Farquhar PTA president Tammy Fox agreed that there has been some overall sadness among those who called the old Farquhar their home for many years. “However, no concerns have been voiced to me by any current students or parents,” she said. However, Farquhar parent Chelsea Curtis said that some parents had been concerned, even before the fire. “Any vacant building is anything but safe,” she said. “We love our new structure and while we loved that old building, it needs to be torn down. Bittersweet, maybe, but most parents I’ve talked with are hoping for a quick demolition, especially now. Students are shocked and wondering what the real story is—you how middle schoolers can be. They are just curious.”



Terri Hogan can be reached at [email protected].

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