Witnesses leaving the scene of a fire at St. Patrick's School in Phenix City estimate a quarter of the building was destroyed.
Firefighters were summoned to the blaze witnesses said they first noticed about 3 p.m. Teachers at the Lakewood Baptist Church school nearby said St. Patrick's ends its school day at 2:45 p.m., so they doubted any students were inside.
Authorities at the scene were rerouting traffic.
According to a 2007 Ledger-Enquirer article, St. Patrick's is a Catholic school for pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. Now owned by the St. Patrick Church in Phenix City, it once was owned by a group of nuns. Nine women from a retreat center at Holy Trinity in Russell County helped Thomas Augustin Judge open the school in 1916.
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"He wanted to start a school for the lunch carriers -- children who went to school at 8 a.m. and had to try to get out at 10 a.m. and bring lunches to the mills," said Father Tom Weise, the pastor of St. Patrick. "The public schools started to exclude them -- the lunch carriers couldn't stay all day."
The original school was in the 1600 block of Broadway. The sisters moved it to 3910 Lakewood Drive in 1965. "At one time there were 300 children in the school. After people became more affluent, the sisters decided that they had other work to do," said Weise. "They closed the school in 1994. The sisters' headquarters is now in Philadelphia and they work among poor people in major cities."
From 1994 until 1999, the school housed Head Start and an alternative school before St. Patrick Church bought the building in 1999. The enrollment usually is 70 to 100 students each year and includes children from different religious backgrounds. The school in 2007 had 10 classrooms, 10 teachers and two para-professionals.