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Kelley Rea’s metal detector emitted a steady “ping” as she walked the perimeter of the former James Blair Middle School on Thursday morning.
Suddenly, the tempo of the pings accelerated, the rapid ringing alerting Rea to what could be a hidden treasure.
Alas, the find was nothing more than a dirt-crusted pull tab.
“We get those a lot,” Rea said.
Rea and fellow members of the Tidewater Coin & Relic Club found coins, soda cans and jagged pieces of metal near the annex of the school, which now houses the Williamsburg-James City County School Division’s central office.
They did not, however, uncover any time capsules, which alumni of the former high school and middle school believe are buried on campus. School division officials are depending on recollections from alumni to find them, as records of where the time capsules are located have not been found.
“I feel like we’re digging up ghosts,” said Bob Stivender, who graduated from James Blair High School in 1968. “There are lots of memories here. Memories of growing up as an adolescent, learning – because it was a very good school – friends here and friends who are no longer here.”
Alan Robertson, facilities manager for WJCC Schools, said several people have told him they recall burying a time capsule to the right of where the flag poles now stand. That area will be carefully searched this summer when the entrance to the administrative offices is relocated, which will occur as part of the demolition of the school.
The school’s auditorium, gym, cafeteria, media center and music education areas will be leveled this summer to make way for a new, three-story school middle school accommodating 600 students.
Virginia Amiss, who graduated from James Blair High School in 1971, said the demolition is bittersweet and she feels like the school’s high school classes are the “forgotten group.”
“I think it’s a good move for WJCC to help us find our memories,” Amiss said.
Rea said a friend told her the school division was looking for time capsules and she offered the club’s services to Robertson. The most school-related item found Thursday morning was a rusty dial believed to be from a locker.
A large metal object that appeared to have a lid was found not far from where Rea picked up the pull tab, but Robertson decided it should be left alone, as he thought it may be related to plumbing.
The metal detectors could not find evidence of the time capsule near the flag poles, Rea said, because of there is a metal layer below the concrete that causes the detector to "ping" all over the ground.
If a capsule is unearthed, Stivender said he expects to find notes from students about their lives and what they imagined the future would be like. As a student, he said he had never thought he would see the capsule contents again.
“I was too busy thinking about getting a date to the prom,” Stivender said.