Firefighters still battling blazes in historic Middletown school building set for demolition

Credit: Journal News

Fire in outbuilding of old Lincoln School in Middletown

Credit: Journal News

Firefighters were called twice in one day earlier this week for fires in Middletown’s oldest still-standing school building that is slated for demolition soon, and they found people living inside.

The former Lincoln School, built in 1927, will be leveled after historic items and asbestos are removed from the building at 2402 Central Ave. The city has bids in hand, and council is is expected for approve a contract at its April 6 meeting.

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Lincoln School closed in 1980 The building was then sold to Middletown Dental Group, which maintained a dental practice in the building until 2011. Several other small businesses operated out of the building during that time.

Fire in outbuilding of old Lincoln School in Middletown
Fire in outbuilding of old Lincoln School in Middletown

The building has been vacant for multiple years, and local residents have called it an eyesore. It has been the site of vandalism and a 2015 fire.

Middletown Fire Capt. Frank Baughman, who is the city’s fire marshal, said fire broke out twice Monday in separate locations of the building. Despite the building’s condition, they found signs of at least five to six people living in locations they have staked out.

The first fire during the morning began in an old gymnasium area. The cause is unknown because “the part of the building it was in wasn’t safe to really investigate it without a risk of part of the ceiling caving in,” Baughman said.

But three people were found inside. Baughman said they woke two of them up, and a third met units outside. He had an outstanding warrant and was taken into custody.

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About 9:15 p.m., fire units again responded and found a fire on the second floor of the main building. Baughman said he believed the second fire in intentionally set.

“The first fire had been burning for awhile, slowly for hours before we were notified,” he said. “The second fire happened after they had searched the building that day from top to bottom. And it was garbage that was set on fire on the second floor. Totally isolated from the first fire. Looks intentional.”

Baughman said there is still enough in the building to cause a large fire, and it is dangerous for both those living there and firefighters who respond.

“We try to point folks to shelters and other services,” he said. “These buildings are not safe to be in, period, then fire magnifies things. Then we have to worry about getting these people out without killing ourselves in the process.”

Demolition of the building is necessary because it has created a level of blight in the neighborhood, according to city officials.

The state transferred the property to the county land bank on July 12, 2018, and the land bank transferred the property to the city on July 26, 2018, according to the Butler County Auditor’s Office website.

Staff Writer Rick McCrabb contributed to this report

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