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Bully Pulpit

The term "bully pulpit" stems from President Theodore Roosevelt's reference to the White House as a "bully pulpit," meaning a terrific platform from which to persuasively advocate an agenda. Roosevelt often used the word "bully" as an adjective meaning superb/wonderful. The Bully Pulpit features news, reasoned discourse, opinion and some humor.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Engineer recommends demolishing historic Nancy Reynolds

By Wendy Byerly Wood for The Stokes News, December 13, 2007:

While two of the three main buildings on Nancy Reynolds Elementary School's campus are structurally sound, the original building on the property needs to be at least partially demolished.
That was the recommendation made Monday night to the Stokes County Board of Education by Jerry Moorefield, who completed a structural feasibility study of the property's buildings for the school system, as it prepares for what needs it may include in a possible referendum for school construction.
The buildings evaluated by Moorefield, a Stokes County structural engineer, were the gym, the cafeteria/shop building and the 1923 original structure and its 1931 wings, which are used as the main school building on the campus.
"Building three (the gym) and two (cafeteria) are more modern construction made of block and steel," Moorefield said. In his report to the school board, he noted that two buildings would only need a few modifications to come up to code requirements.
A chart that summarizes the stress ratio on various points of the original building and its wings shows that the building failed 13 of its 18 stress tests and the wings were marginal in two of their eight tests.
The two main places of concern were the classroom south of the auditorium and its corridor wall and the media center north of the auditorium and the corridor wall. "They are too overloaded," Moorefield told the school board. "I would consider them immediate concerns."
He explained that a 1.0 is an acceptable stress ration and anything above a 1.5 is a concern. The floor joist under the classroom sound of the auditorium had a ration of 3.01 and the floor joist under the media center of the auditorium was 4.29.
"There is a point where you say how much is too much, and we've reached that," Moorefield said. "In the 1931 building, the floor is sagging and bowing because it was probably put in green and dried after it was put in.
"We need some temporary repair to the supports of the auditorium for the short-term," he said.
The long-term solution was not as simple. In his study conclusion, Moorefield said of the educational building, "This portion of the building had numerous over stresses found in our evaluation. It appears that the service life of this particular portion of the building has been realized ... In regard to the wings, they appear to be constructed with a more methodical approach to load path and load transfer and we have found only marginal items in regard to the north and south wings that were constructed in 1931. However, we did observe that the floors are not level within these wings and due to the age of the structure and the condition of the floors, it would be difficult to renovate these two wings without a significant structural upgrade."
Moorefield offered three options to the school board to deal with the poor condition of the educational building:
*To tear down the existing building and build a new educational building, which he said "would be the most economical approach."
*To demolish the existing building and replace it with a replica of the original 1923 building. "This would be close economically to that of standard new construction," he said.
*To gut the original building and wings, but keep the outer walls and rebuild the new construction inside the original walls. "The 1931 wings may require slightly less modification, but this will depend upon final classroom size requirements. This method would likely cost a 25 to 35 percent premium over that of new construction square footage cost," Moorefield said.
The structural weakness of the building was not Moorefield's only concern. He also mentioned the small sizes of the classrooms, fire risks with an old wooden structure and several other items.
He also pointed out some type of excavated area that was discovered under the media center area when the evaluation was taking place. In pictures included in the study, Moorefield noted that a support pier had fallen and been replaced with rocks and another pier is on the edge of falling.
Also found during the evaluation were exposed electrical wires above the auditorium and in one of the wings. "With this school, you have to be very conscious with things like that," he said.
Interim Superintendent Nelson Jessup said the work to provide extra support of the auditorium needs to take place long before any bond referendum occurs, which the county commissioners are proposing for the November 2008 election.
Moorefield said someone in the past did make sure that the computer areas had temporary treated timbers and supports placed under them for added security.
"It is a structure that has probably exceeded its expected life," he said.
The engineer said that he will work with David Burge, director of operations for the school system, to see if the work is something the schools' maintenance employees can handle and to secure estimates on the work.
In addition to the soundness of the buildings, Moorefield said he did take a look at the retaining wall around the building, which has been an item of concern to residents of the Nancy Reynolds community.
"They've done a lot of work on the face that has caused water to sit in it, and it is leaning. The condition of it is very poor, and, when whatever is done to the school is done, it needs to be addressed. I think it's in the right of way and, if something is done, it needs to move back, which encroaches extremely on the yard area," he said. "The handrail doesn't meet current code. There are just a lot of issues there with the wall."

5 Comments:

Blogger Steve Brenneis said...

...he noted that two buildings would only need a few modifications to come up to code requirements.

Keep in mind that the purpose of building codes has little to do with safety or structural integrity. It has more to do with setting the rate of taxation on construction (a.k.a. building permits) and with favoring certain manufacturers of construction materials. Witness the fact that the group of people who establish the National Electrical Code are all employees of the major electrical equipment manufacturers.

That being said, I think it is up to the Nancy Reynolds community (which I happen to inhabit) to work up the wherewithal to do this preservation. From a purely economic point of view, it makes no sense to restore the structure if it is cheaper to build a new one. I have no idea whether that is the case, so a rational person would conclude that the members of the board of education should investigate that very question. As an aside, since the Stokes County Board of Education would have trouble combining their IQs to equal a three-digit number, I am not enough of a Pollyanna to expect that they will embark on this rational course of action, hence my recommendation above.

Have been in the thick of previous frays to preserve Nancy Reynolds School, I can tell you that I will be completely unsurprised if the apathy that is rampant in the community fails to save the building or the school. At the time that the Black Community in Walnut Cove banded together to preserve the old Walnut Cove Colored School (using roughly 99% private funds), I attempted to awaken some interest in doing the same for the old Brown Mountain Colored School. You can see how successful I was when you drive past the building with its caved in roof and crumbling walls.

Soon after I began my short career in public service, I was visiting the home of one of the ancestral denizens of the Brown Mountain Community. I was informed that the locals love their community, just don't try to get them to do anything about it. Wiser words have rarely been uttered.

Thursday, December 20, 2007 10:57:00 PM  
Blogger Strother said...

Keep in mind that the purpose of building codes has little to do with safety or structural integrity. It has more to do with setting the rate of taxation on construction (a.k.a. building permits) and with favoring certain manufacturers of construction materials. Witness the fact that the group of people who establish the National Electrical Code are all employees of the major electrical equipment manufacturers.

I figured as much.

If I was on the school board — and was even the slightest bit interested in preserving Nancy Reynolds — I would call a builder or architect experienced with repairing and preserving old construction ... maybe even one that is notably accomplished at preserving historic buildings. On that note, does anyone have Steven Cole's phone number? I think the board (as well as Nancy Reynolds’ PTA) could use it.

Further, although I didn't say this in my letter to The Stokes News, I suspect that the board may just be using the “Nancy Reynolds is falling apart” story to build interest in a big school construction bond referendum that they are planning for the near future (the bond is mentioned in the 2nd paragraph of the Stokes News article).

I hope this won’t be the case, but — once the bond passes — it wouldn’t surprise me if it were decided to cheap out on Nancy Reynolds in order to build more school buildings in King — each a series of flat-topped steel buildings on concrete slabs with the visual appeal of an industrial park. (Yeah, that’s a way to inspire kids … put them in a ‘factory’ from the very beginning!)

That being said, I think it is up to the Nancy Reynolds community (which I happen to inhabit) to work up the wherewithal to do this preservation.

I agree. It's also time to discuss the possibilities (as well as the limitations) of the money available from the Reynolds foundation (which, I understand, is currently at about $730,000 in total). Maybe a new retaining wall (as mentioned in the article) could be constructed using this money? Meanwhile, the school board can finally carry out their maintenance duties regarding the school's foundation.

Having been in the thick of previous frays to preserve Nancy Reynolds School, I can tell you that I will be completely unsurprised if the apathy that is rampant in the community fails to save the building or the school.

I don't doubt what you've observed, Steve. However, now is the time for the younger generation of Nancy Reynolds graduates, and other comparatively new community members, to step up. And let me know; I'm all for joining in on some fundraising efforts to preserve a unique community school that just so happens to be a scenic, historic spot in northwestern Stokes County with an elementary school campus equipped in a way that has long made even local high schools jealous.

On a final note, there's something to be said about environment in education. Nancy Reynolds has an educational environment like no other public school in the county … and in a good way. I can vouch for it; I went to school there. Call me crazy, but there's a unique feeling that you get when you step into that 1923 auditorium at Nancy Reynolds School; it's a reverent feeling, as you have literally stepped into the hallowed space where the lives and minds of children have developed for nearly a century. I can't speak for everyone, but this environment has played a massive role in my life. I'm pretty sure that I'm not alone.

Thursday, December 20, 2007 11:54:00 PM  
Blogger Andy W. Rogers said...

I wonder if talk will start up again about closing Nancy Reynolds and Francisco and building a new school...

Friday, December 21, 2007 10:14:00 AM  
Blogger Steve Brenneis said...

I hope this won’t be the case, but — once the bond passes — it wouldn’t surprise me if it were decided to cheap out on Nancy Reynolds in order to build more school buildings in King...

That has always been the case. During the last bond (party? fiasco? orgy?), they threw in a few thousand to resurface the floor in the gym at Nancy Reynolds school. I guess they figured that would make sure I voted for the bond proposal (I didn't). Like I said, these are not the sharpest knives in the drawer. When I asked about things like fixing the foundation, repairing some of the basement classrooms, and stiffening the floors in the auditorium (yes, they are quite bouncy), the Superintendent, Frank Sells (Stokes County's local version of Bill Clinton) gave me that very tired look and said that the gym floor was all the Principal had asked for. I found that to be very ironic, by the way. Frank was essentially telling me they couldn't really do any more because the Principal hadn't asked for more, but had he asked for a complete renovation, I'm sure Frank would have not only erased the request, he probably would have erased the Principal, too. Of course, since the Principal at the time was Frank's man (and childhood friend), that was something he knew he didn't have to worry about.

It's also time to discuss the possibilities (as well as the limitations) of the money available from the Reynolds foundation...

One of which limitations is a caveat requiring BoE approval for all expenditures. The school Principals, who are members ex officio of the advisory board, have ever been timid in taking requests to the BoE (see above).

And let me know; I'm all for joining in on some fundraising efforts to preserve a unique community school that just so happens to be a scenic, historic spot in northwestern Stokes County with an elementary school campus equipped in a way that has long made even local high schools jealous.

I had actually spoken to some folks at one time about the possibility of buying the school from Stokes County. It didn't go very far, but there was some confusion over who actually owns the schools. The general statutes are unhelpful. In the end, the State of North Carolina owns it all, but the LEA (Local Education Association, the official name of the school board) and Board of County Commissioners are bodies corporate under state law and allowed to own property. Since real property is capital property, and since the County Commissioners provide about 90% of the capital funding (the other 10% coming from state and federal coffers), one could reasonably conclude that the BoC owns the property. However, the law states that the Commissioners may only provide the funding and potentially veto certain uses of it. They may not specify the use of capital funds independent of the LEA. In other words, the Commissioners can't tell the school board that they have to build a school or spend capital money on a particular school. (Truth be known, the Commissioners have a lot more authority over the LEA than most people know, but they invariably fail to exercise it). In general, most counties have taken the position that the property belongs to the BoC during the period of planning and construction and is then turned over to the LEA upon completion.

All of that dry didactic was given to lead up to the observation that the Board of Commissioners is generally a far more reasonable body to deal with in terms of business transactions. Therefore, my plan to buy Nancy Reynolds School from the County met with problems right out of the gate. The greedy idiots on the LEA would most certainly decide that the school was worth a small fortune, in spite of the fact that they have, as Strother observed, let the school practically fall into ruin. My own plan was to convert the school into a private boarding school for severely retarded and autistic children. I wanted to construct some dormitories and staff housing on the site. The plan would only work if the LEA was going to be reasonable and refrain from raping us on the price of the school. Obviously, any plan that hinges on members of the school board being reasonable is doomed to failure.

Call me crazy, but there's a unique feeling that you get when you step into that 1923 auditorium at Nancy Reynolds School; it's a reverent feeling, as you have literally stepped into the hallowed space where the lives and minds of children have developed for nearly a century.

Indeed. What you were experiencing was the atmosphere of a place that was intended to bring enlightenment to a world of utter ignorance. At the time the school was built, the local population was almost completely illiterate. Even after the school was built, many parents still declined to send their children. School years were adjusted to accommodate plating and harvesting (imagine doing that now!) and Mrs. (Katharine) Reynolds herself loaned the use of her limousine on winter days when the school buses were unable to reach the more remote areas of the community to bring the children to school. All this was before the forces of socialism and social engineering degraded public education into public indoctrination. What you were experiencing was a place that was intended for learning, back when learning was a prize, something that disappeared from the public schools a generation or more ago.

By the way, I was reminded that Bill Hart now sits on the school board. While I know Bill to be a reasonable and intelligent (although demonstrably insane) fellow, my assertion on the aggregate value of the board's IQ stands since it could be reasonably argued that some of its members have IQs in the negative numbers.

Friday, December 21, 2007 10:21:00 AM  
Blogger Steve Brenneis said...

I wonder if talk will start up again about closing Nancy Reynolds and Francisco and building a new school...

That's an argument that amounts, in the end, to little more than a tussle over what flavor of icing we should use on the poop cake.

Friday, December 21, 2007 11:01:00 AM  

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