- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 4, 2014

COALMONT, Ind. (AP) - Investigators suspect someone set the fire that destroyed a former elementary school that was a focal point of a small southwestern Indiana town even though it was closed five decades ago.

The brick exterior is about all that remains of the school in the Clay County community of Coalmont. The roof collapsed into the gymnasium and classroom sections as the fire spread early Sunday.

Lewis Township assistant fire chief Shawn Husband said the blaze was suspicious and the state fire marshal’s office was leading the investigation.

“Nothing is final until after the state fire marshal investigation is completed,” he told The Brazil Times.

The school in the 400-person town about 20 miles south of Terre Haute was still occasionally used as a community center. A limestone marker on the school indicates it was built in 1949-50.

The former elementary school-junior high was closed in 1963, as the town became part of the Shakamak school district in nearby Jasonville.

Resident Norma Bemis, who worked at the school as a nurse’s assistant and the school secretary, said many town residents had connections with the building.

“It meant a good bit to me, and I just hated it when the school went to Jasonville,” she told the Tribune-Star. “I always liked this community. You knew everybody who lived in town.”

Lewis Township Fire Chief Bryan Husband said the building was owned by an area bank, but a local resident was in the process of trying to buy it to put the building back into use.

“The guy that was actually buying it was looking at reopening it for an open gym in the summer,” he said.

Husband said he attended elementary school in the building, along with playing and refereeing basketball games in the gym.

“I’ve been a firefighter here for 40 years, and you wonder why, why would anyone want to burn it down, or do anything to cause it to burn down,” he said.

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