The pomp and circumstance began a week before the official start of the school year in Camden as officials cut the ribbon on a new Camden High School campus — the city’s first new high school in a century.
The ceremony Tuesday was not only a celebration of what took years to accomplish, but also an all-class reunion that included Mayor Vic Carstarphen, a 1988 graduate and one of the most celebrated basketball stars in school history.
“He needed a good cheerleading squad to make sure that he was able to have the motivation,” said State District Superintendent Katrina McCombs, a 1987 graduate, alluding to her cheerleading days while introducing the mayor.
Carstarphen, who is fourth on the school’s all-time scoring list, recalled when he was asked to participate in a video advocating for a new building while he was a coach at the school.
“I didn’t hesitate,” he said. Carstarphen spoke about visiting schools in other communities where his players told him about the showers and the drinking fountains that worked — unlike at their school.
“Jumping at the opportunity to talk about the need for a new building with new technology and new resources, that was something that I didn’t hesitate to do,” he added.
Demolition of the original “castle on the hill” was completed in 2018 to make way for the new building. The $133 million project incorporated some architectural elements of the old building, finished in 1918, including the original archway and stairs, sections of the original basketball court, and the cornerstone and time capsule.
When it opens for the first day of school on Sept. 7, the new Camden High School campus will house four separate schools: Camden High, Big Picture Learning Academy, Brimm Medical Arts Academy, and the Creative Arts Academy.
“Each academy has its own section of the building and its own autonomy because we wanted to make sure that the rich history of each academy was able to come over into this new building,” McCombs said. The colors of each academy are accented in their designated spaces.
Takayla Williams, a rising senior in the Big Picture Learning Academy, said she was “excited, but nervous” about the new campus.
“There may be a few casualties, but I believe that we’ll be able to make it through,” she said, “Y’all are putting four high schools together into one building, just saying.”
Williams paid homage to the alumni of Camden High, as well as the three other academies.
“Although we are four different schools and we’re coming into one, we will not lose our focus,” she said.
Though the academies are separate, they will share several common spaces like the auditorium, as well as a cafeteria divided into four areas and the classroom for ROTC.
Not forgotten at the ceremony was the late Martha Wilson, the long-time school board member who pushed to build the new Camden High campus.
Her husband, Camden County Sheriff Gilbert “Whip” Wilson, said the day was bittersweet for him and his family.
“I’d rather her be here today than me,” he said, noting “Martha never wavered” when it came to demolishing the old school. She had been a member of the first freshman class to enter the school and remained involved after her graduation and when their children were students there.
“The sweet part of this day is Martha’s fingerprints are all over this place,” he said.
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