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Helper's Central school unearthed

A trackhoe begins reburying the exposed foundation of Central School.
Central School as it looked until 1964.
Flames engulf Central School in August 1964.

Sun Advocate associate editor

Even though it has been dead, buried and apparently forgotten for almost 50 years now, Helper's old Central School can still create problems.

The teeth of an excavation trackhoe bit into the concrete foundation last week on Locust Street between First and Second West. It was a surprise that required some unexpected work on the modernization of a section of the city's underground infrastructure.

The school, once a landmark in Helper, was completely destroyed by a fire on Aug. 24, 1964, just one week before school was to begin.

Witnesses said the fire seemed to explode, engulfing the building in flames in a matter of minutes. Through brick on the outside, the interior of the building, including the flooring, was wood.

The school lost its pride and joy - a library with the latest in audio-visual gear - according to the Helper Journal.

In the decades before its fiery demise, though, Helper Central had acquired a reputation for more than a great library. Noreen Jewkes recalls the "wonderful teachers" there, including Sally Mauro, who later became principal.

Jewkes also remembers that school lunch first began being served there while she was a student. It was just soup in those days.

"Tasted like dishwater," said Walter Borla. "But on Fridays we got to splurge. We got hot chocolate. It cost us five cents a day."

Jim Pugliese, another former student, recalls Sally Mauro saying something about being uneasy being alone in the school. "She said she always thought there was something wrong," he said.

Ironically, according to the Helper Journal account of the fire, the principal had been in the school on Sunday, the day before the fire, getting classrooms ready for the opening of school the next week.

Mauro had taught at Central School continuously since 1928 and said she was heartsick at the loss of her "first and most important home."

The cause of the blaze was not determined. Fire Chief Louis Martinelli suspected that fumes from wood floor sealer had accumulated in the attic and were somehow touched off, perhaps by a static discharge. That would account for the explosive spread of the fire that Martinelli saw.

This all happened just weeks after an extensive remodeling and refurbishing costing more than $5,000, the Journal noted.

The shell of the old school was razed, and the foundation simply buried.

A new school was built on the west side of town, appropriately named in honor of Sally Mauro.

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