Efforts mount to save at least some pieces of Camden High School as plans to replace the "Castle on the Hill" move forward
Demolition opponents are selling bracelets to raise money, while historic preservationists suggest saving and displaying some architectural elements
Plans to demolish the beloved but functionally obsolete Camden High School next year have inspired a proposal to salvage some of the building's decorative architectural features and transform them into sculpture on the nearby grounds of the Camden County Historical Society.
But public affection for the "Castle on the Hill" – and the community's fear of losing control of public education in the city - also have inspired a grassroots movement to preserve the existing Camden High.
A Save Camden High School Facebook group has attracted nearly 1,000 members. A bracelet-making effort, as well as online petition and fundraising campaigns, also aim to build enough public support to mount a legal challenge to the demolition.
"While we certainly agree a new facility is needed for our youth, it is easily provable that the iconic castle need not be demolished. There is more than enough acreage to build a school in back of [it]," the introduction to the campaign's Go Fund Me page states.
"Camden High should not be torn down. It's not fair to the students or the teachers," Dava Salas declares. The Cramer Hill resident is making bracelets in the school's purple and gold colors; she hopes to have 100 ready to sell for $3 each at the annual Camden High-Woodrow Wilson High football game festivities.
Salas also says she has gathered 150 signatures on paper "Save Camden High" petitions she has circulated door-to-door since Saturday. A petition on the New Jersey Communities United website had drawn nearly 200 supporters as of Thursday.
Meanwhile, city and state education officials are praising the notion of saving at least some of the stonework atop the central tower and surrounding the front entrance of Camden High.
"We always want to save historic buildings, but in this case it doesn't seem to be possible," says historical society president Jack O'Byrne.
"So as a Plan B to honor the legacy of Camden High School, we would like to take some of the iconic elements of the building and bring them down to street level in a sculpture park, where they can be enjoyed."
O'Byrne's salvage-to-sculpture proposal also has attracted the interest of sculptor Robert Roesch, who teaches at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia, and maintains a studio in South Jersey.
Bridget Phifer, executive director of Parkside Business and Community in Partnership, Inc., says many of her organization's 200 members have deep affection for and connections to the school.
"They would like to see at least the tower preserved," she says.
But if that's not feasible, "I think most people would support being able to hold on to some of that history" through a proposal like that of the historical society, Phifer adds.
O'Byrne came up with the salvage proposal after the NJ Schools Development Authority's $133 million plan to replace Camden High with an entirely new facility was announced in October.
Some of Trenton Central High's architectural features have been salvaged for inclusion in a project to replace that facility in the state's capital city, notes Charles McKenna, the authority's chief executive officer.
"We understand the historic, iconic aspects of Camden High," says McKenna, who outlined the plans to the Parkside organization's membership in October.
"We don't want to eradicate history. But the school is beyond its useful life. And we can't put memories ahead of the kids. "
McKenna has provided his design chief with information about the architectural salvage proposal. "We'll do what we can to accommodate that," he says, adding, "it's not our intention to come in as if the school never existed. But we have to balance the need for [preserving] history with the needs of the students.
"They deserve a first-rate educational experience. Which requires a first-rate educational facility."