On Nancy Reynolds School [RE: (Stokes County) School board setting priorities for construction projects]
By Wendy Byerly Wood
First off, thanks to Wood for regularly reporting on this subject. Please keep it up, and keep asking questions.
With more than $55 million in construction needs already noted, the Stokes County Board of Education Tuesday met to decide where its focus should be in preparation for a joint meeting with the county commissioners set for yesterday afternoon.
At the school board’s first January meeting, members received an updated study of the school system’s population growth and a prediction of where it will go heading into the next couple of years.
The board was advised by Jeff Zie, of North Carolina State University’s OR/Ed. lab that the county only needs one new elementary school to address its overcrowding issues in the western district as opposed to the original recommendation two years ago of two new elementary schools and a new middle school.
Well, that’s good news. Instead of new construction, investment can be made to preserve what the Stokes County already has. Let’s hope the board can see it that way.
In light of finding out this new data, school board members Tuesday decided to first identify priorities or standards they would like to use in setting forth a long range, comprehensive facility needs plan. During their discussions, the four standards the board members decided the county’s schools should meet are safety, energy efficiency, age and condition and quality space.
From that point, they identified the first construction priorities as being a new elementary school in the west district as well as additional classrooms at Lawsonville, Mount Olive and Pinnacle elementary schools.
Another priority of the board and the school system’s staff is to address needs at Nancy Reynolds Elementary School, which is facing major structural deficiencies, according to an engineering study by Jerry Moorefield. The school system has done some temporary work to address the deterioration of the school’s foundation and is working to reinforce the rafters, which Maintenance Director Ricky Goins said are separating at the knee joints and beginning to sag slightly.
But Moorefield told Goins that those temporary measures will not last more than three years and a more permanent solution needs to be found in addressing the structural safety of the school, either through a historical reconstruction, which could cost twice what a new $7 million school would cost, or through a replacement of the school.
To recap, “major structural deficiencies” exist at Nancy Reynolds, but first construction priorities exist at Lawsonville, Mount Olive, and Pinnacle with an entirely new school prioritized around King, Winston-Salem's rapidly-growing, tax-ducking bedroom community. (By the way, Nancy Reynolds-area residents and parents should remember this prioritization, possibly around the time of the next BOE election cycle.)
Out of “$55 million in construction needs,” surely complete structural preservation of Nancy Reynolds Elementary School — the educational landmark built as a memorial for Nancy Jane Cox Reynolds, mother of Mr. R.J. Reynolds — warrants $14 million. After all, Nancy Reynolds is in this state because it wasn’t properly maintained for years. The school and the community finally deserve some service in lieu of what it was gypped out of in decades past.
Also, Stokes News readers should remember that Moorefield is a structural engineer hired by the board, not a builder or a historic building restoration expert. Let’s look to more than one source of information when it comes to speaking in the millions of dollars while pushing specific agendas.
The school board also noted that work needs to be done at Southeastern Middle School to bring its facility up to date. That work mainly would be addressing the old elementary building, which has classrooms too small for middle school class sizes and only one bathroom for each gender.
Looking at the cost estimates provided in a workbook by David Burge, director of operations, those projects could total close to $30 million.
Also, Superintendent Dr. Stewart Hobbs suggested the board interview and choose an architectural firm to come in to Stokes County and do a full long-range facility needs plan based on a structural analysis of the schools’ life cycle, efficiency, population, age, use, etc.
"When we start talking about $20 million, $30 million, even $40 million, the commissioners owe it to the community to have done all their homework and know what we want to have happen. It is easier to get support from the community that way," Hobbs said. "I really feel like there is a lot of information in here and we need to make sure we have enough information to make the right decisions … I think we need to make sure we give them as much good information as we can so that we can sell it to the public," he said … We’ve got a lot of schools over 50 years old," Hobbs said. "If you know you’re going to replace a school in five years, then you’re not going to spend millions on cosmetic work."
Regarding schools over 50 years old, yes: Nancy Reynolds is definitely that — 85 years old, to be exact, which is the exact same age as Winston-Salem’s flagship public high school, R.J. Reynolds. Both were built in 1923 with the generous funding of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, and to this day both continue to receive financial benefits of those initial philanthropic achievements in education. For a hint of how such historical public buildings should be maintained and updated, call R.J. Reynolds’ principal for an in-person visit.
The school board agreed with Hobbs suggestion to bring in an unbiased firm to look at the system’s needs. He said that most architectural firms will do plans like that at no cost with the understanding that the school system has that firm on retainer for its future projects.
"We keep bandaiding, bandaiding, bandaiding and begging, begging, begging. It is time we put our real priorities on the table," said school board Chairman Steve Shelton. "If it can’t happen this year, then we need to at least have a plan."
Yes, let’s hire an architectural firm — maybe even more than one! — for appraisals. However, is getting a free appraisal contingent on hiring a firm post-appraisal the best way to get good data?
For the board’s meeting with the commissioners on Wednesday, the school board planned to update the commissioners on the structural status of Nancy Reynolds as well as have some dialogue with them on what the county is looking for as far as a timeline on funding any school facility projects and then share with them the school board’s standards for determining what its construction priorities will be and the desire to complete a long-range facility needs plan.
Interestingly enough, the Winston-Salem Journal article on Stokes school construction failed to even mention Nancy Reynolds School by name. Yet, according to the local news, it seems that the story is mainly about what to do with Nancy Reynolds.
Yes, it’s a touchy subject, it seems. With other schools and communities salivating at the $55 million dollar mark named by the board, you can imagine that it’s in the best interest of the board to keep its majority of school construction advocates happy. However, serving this interest should not be at the expense of losing a most historical, important community landmark of Northwest Stokes County. Besides, Nancy Reynolds is long overdue for its fair share when it comes to structural maintenance. Once again, I say, it’s time to do it right and preserve what those before so generously gave us.