Randall Spradley, one of three investors who own the historic, 115-year-old abandoned Bowie Elementary School in Downtown Bryan, loves the building. He's spent long hours there, with only a beam of a flashlight to illuminate the way.
Spradley has spent so much time in the building, he can say one thing with certainty: Sorry, ghost hunters -- the abandoned school isn't haunted. Those urban legends of some past tragic event where people died in the halls of the school? He says he can't find historical records that back those stories up, either.
"I've never seen a ghost, but the moment I've seen one, I'll believe," he said. "I've walked through there alone... I guess [the ghosts] just don't like me."
Nonetheless, countless people have broken into the school to ghost-hunt, and this year two groups of young people have been arrested. In January, several teams carrying a Ouija board were caught inside the school and arrested by Bryan police. On Wednesday, three men and a woman -- all in their 20s -- were taken to jail after entering the property.
According to a police report on Wednesday's incident, the four said they were at the abandoned school looking for ghosts. The group is accused of tearing plywood away from the school doors to get inside, and Spradley said its expensive for him and his partners to deal with on a regular basis. Each time a break-in occurs, it can cost several hundred dollars to repair wood or windows.
Spradley gets the spooky allure. He said as a younger man, he liked to explore old buildings, too. But the cost of repairs is taxing, the break-ins concern neighbors and police have to spend a significant amount of time investigating. But most of all, Spradley said the clunky furniture, drippy ceilings that make slippery floors and broken shards of glass throughout the building could seriously injure an explorer stumbling around in the dark.
"Old buildings are cool," Spradley said. "Every old building has a story about a ghost. It's cool, and I like it."
While there may not be any ghosts in Bowie Elementary, there is a lot of history, and there are big plans for the building. In May, the Bryan City Council approved an economic development grant that would establish 53 urban studio apartments in the school at 401 W. 26th St.
Spradley said he and his partners intend not only to keep old features in place, but to replace updates from the 1970s with what would have been the original style of the early 1900s, particularly the 1920s. In conjunction with state laws that would give the owners a historical preservation tax credit, Spradley and partners hope to save seats and the stage from the third-floor auditorium, leaving the century-old children's theater to co-mingle with the loft apartments.
Developers are currently in preparation to abate asbestos in the building, which will be the groundwork of starting the renovations. The building has received significant funding from different sources. In addition to the city council waiving permit fees and allotting a grant of $175,000 toward the building, BRV Partners -- which is Spradley and two other investors who own the school -- raised $12,800 through a GoFundMe campaign that will be used specifically to benefit Bowie's historical preservation. The GoFundMe page, which can be found at www.gofundme.com/behistoric-thebowie, remains open and expands on a description of the building and the project's needs.
Bowie Elementary wasn't always a dilapidated shell. A 1975 article from The Eagle reported of school renovations including an update to tiles and panels and a new air conditioning system. Floor mats made from the Astroturf from the University of Texas football stadium were installed and the principal at the time encouraged the 230 children enrolled to stomp on the Longhorns' stadium grass.
Bowie Elementary, along with Travis and Fannin elementary schools, were closed in 1988. Spradley said sometimes alumni will approach him when he's working on the building.
"People in their 60s and 70s will wait outside," he said. "It's happened before -- recently two women and their grandkids were standing there. One said she used to go to the school and wanted to know what's happening to it. On one occasion, a woman said it was wonderful that we were [renovating] it, and said she wanted to rent an apartment there."