The News Courier in Athens, Alabama

October 17, 2013

Board votes to demolish burned Belle Mina gym

Authorities suspect arson as cause of fire

By Kim West
kwest@athensnews-courier.com

BELLE MINA — Orange safety netting blocks entry points, caution signs warn visitors and the charred remains of the interior can be seen from the side entrance of the gym at the former Mooresville-Belle Mina Elementary School on Mooresville Road.

The dilapidated gym, which caught fire Monday and is still standing, has been declared an “emergency” expense by the Limestone County Board of Education and will be demolished by Hawkins Groundwork Inc. of Athens in the coming weeks.

The board voted Thursday to approve a $15,000 maximum contract with Hawkins “to demolish and make safe the gymnasium and area around the gymnasium at Belle Mina School,” which closed in 1991.

School officials said the emergency designation allows the system to bypass bidding the contract since it does not exceed $15,000.

Gym fire

The fire initially was reported at 1:30 a.m. Monday, and re-ignited at about 4:45 a.m. Units from Segars Volunteer Fire Department and Huntsville Fire and Rescue spent 13 hours battling a recurring fire that is believed to have started on the stage in the rear of the gym.

County Commission equipment operators had to remove the back wall of the gym to allow firefighters access to put out the re-ignited fire. A pile of debris from the back wall and metal tin from the roof also became enflamed, but firefighters managed to limit it to a controlled burn by 1:30 p.m. Monday.

“I want to publicly thank (County) Commissioner (Steve) Turner for the use of a couple of track hoes because it became necessary to take down the back part of the gym and stage area,” said Dr. Tom Sisk, superintendent of Limestone County Schools, during a special board meeting held Tuesday. “It kept smoldering to the point where it would keep re-igniting … I would like to expedite this process of taking down this building.”

Sisk said the superstructure of the roof, which is supported by steel I-beams, is sagging about 5 feet. He classified the building as “a total loss.”

“This building is not salvageable … I believe it to be a hazard due to its condition and secluded location,” Sisk said.

Arson suspected

The state fire marshal suspects arson as the cause of the fire, according to Sisk and Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakely.

The Sheriff’s Office is seeking to question eight people seen at the school property Sunday by Athens businessman J. Bradley Horner, who in September made a $600,000 lease-purchase offer to turn the shuttered school into a day care.

The sheriff said Horner told him he saw four white males leaving the school property in a maroon and grey Toyota 4Runner. Two black females and two black males in their late 20s or early 30s in a gold-colored sedan were also seen by Horner at the property, according to Blakely.

To report tips about the possible arson, contact the Sheriff’s Office at 256-232-0111.