Abandoned Jacksonville school investigated after ‘suspicious’ fire had issues, residents say

Public School No. 8 has been closed since 2013

Inside of abandoned Public School No. 8 following suspicious fire. (JFRD)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The cause of a fire Sunday morning at an abandoned school on the city’s Eastside is considered suspicious, according to the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department.

Crews responded about 7:30 a.m. to the fire at Public School No. 8 at Franklin and East 16th streets.

JFRD said the fire was intentionally started in multiple spots within the building -- which is why the cause of the fire is considered suspicious. The state fire marshal was called to investigate.

The exact cause of the fire was not immediately known.

MORE | Death of a neighborhood school: Inside Public School No. 8

Residents told News4Jax there have been issues with people entering the school for a long time. The school has been closed down since 2013. Since then it has had problems with graffiti and broken windows.

Public School No. 8 has been closed since 2013

“Little kids go in there all the time,” said Shan Sansnong, who lives nearby. “And I’m betting homeless people live in there too.”

When News4Jax stopped by the school Monday morning there was a large graffiti message on the front door that reads “Caution. Do not enter. Beware! Demons inside.”

Other nearby residents said they see people walk toward the building that sits just off the MLK Expressway and disappear.

“I see people walk around it but they just disappear. I always wondered why they go down and turn then we don’t see them anymore,” said Irving Williams who lives a few houses away.

No injuries were reported, but JFRD pointed out that the abandoned building had holes in the floors and ceilings and no electricity, posing risks to firefighters.

“You go into a smoke-charged building that has no power, no lights. You can’t see. It’s filled with smoke, holes in the floor. It’s easy for a firefighter to fall through that floor,” said JFRD Capt. Eric Prosswimmer.

Public School No. 8 opened its doors to students in 1909.

Stan Jordan told News4Jax he became principal of the school in 1968 when it was called J. Allen Axson. Jordan was pictured on the front page of the Jacksonville Times-Union in 1970.

“I was raised three blocks from the school,” said Jordan. “I was there as a child, and when I came back from the military a few years later, I became the principal of the school that I attended as a child.”

Jordan said he wasn’t surprised to see firefighters putting out a fire at his old school. He also said it has been upsetting to see what the school once was and what it is now.

“It broke my heart,” he said. “I went over there a couple of years ago and saw the deterioration of the school, and I called the city, and they came out and did a report on it.”

He said that three weeks ago, he called Duval County Public Schools to share his concerns over the dilapidated building with the director of facilities.

“How can I community revitalize itself and have a sense of pride and stability if it has no school?” Jordan said. “You got to understand there’s three parts of a community: the home, the school and the church. It’s like a three-legged stool. If you take one of those away, that stool won’t stand.”

In the late 1990s, the school board needed to invest money in what had become the second-oldest public school building still in operation with a price tag of $10 million. The decision was made to abandon it. So while the school board does not own it anymore, Jordan thinks it still has the responsibility to maintain it.

About the Authors:

Scott is a multi-Emmy Award Winning Anchor and Reporter, who also hosts the “Going Ringside With The Local Station” Podcast. Scott has been a journalist for 25 years, covering stories including six presidential elections, multiple space shuttle launches and dozens of high-profile murder trials.