THONWS-04-21-21 KERN FIRE

Kern Street School building was damaged by fire in November and December of last year. Last week, a Thomasville man was charged with setting both fires.

THOMASVILLE — An arrest was made last week in the fire that was set at the former Kern Street school building.

Charles Setzer-Hayes, 23, of Thomasville, was charged in the arson of the former school building this past December. He already faced another felony burning charge for a separate arson at the location this past November.

“The suspect was involved and charged with a fire that occurred previously to the old school and was a suspect in the most recent fire early on,” Thomasville Police Department Capt. Brad Saintsing said. “Investigators were able to gather enough evidence to eventually charge him.”

The fire in late December heavily damaged the former school building.

In November, firefighters contained a fire at Kern Street School, once an elementary school within the Thomasville schools umbrella. Since its closure, city officials had attempted to make improvements to the school but wrestled with the difficulty of having an abandoned building present an opportunity for mischief.

The most recent fires are not the first crews have battled in recent years, and the dilapidation of the property has been the subject of speculation by residents and officials for years.

Kern Street School was a companion institution to the historic Church Street School, which — according to the U.S. Dept. of Interior’s National Park Service — became eligible for the National Register of Historic places for the significant role it played in the school-building program of the 1920s and 1930s. Built as part of a project in what was then-segregated Thomasville, Kern Street School was built for white students.

Church Street School was the school built for Black students through the combination of grant funding and local money as the first brick school facility for Black students in Thomasville. Originally a consolidated school that included all grades, Church Street School became part of the integrated school system in 1968.

According to the National Park Service, well-known Winston-Salem architect William Roy Wallace designed both Church Street and Kern Street schools. They are the only known surviving buildings by Wallace in Thomasville.

Flames ravaged the Church Street School in 2000, and a subsequent fire in 2006 destroyed the building’s gymnasium. In the last two years, it has been the Kern Street building that has undergone major fire damage.

Reporter Paul Johnson contributed to this article. Staff writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 336-888-3578, or at kennedy@tvilletimes.com.

Reporter Paul Johnson contributed to this article.

Staff writer Daniel Kennedy can be reached at 336-888-3578, or at kennedy@tvilletimes.com.