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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.

Friday, January 25, 2008

On Nancy Reynolds School [RE: (Stokes County) School board setting priorities for construction projects]

It’s been a while since I’ve posted a ‘line-by-line’ response on the ol’ BP. I’ve been watching this situation from afar, and am understandably intrigued. I’m a native of the community and went to school at Nancy Reynolds. So did my sister, my mother, and my father. My grandmother taught her entire career there, as did my mom. So yes, there’s some history there. I know the school, the setting, and the grounds comparatively well.

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.

6 Comments:

Blogger Steve Brenneis said...

All of these appeals to the authority of "experts" gets so tiresome. The truth is that there isn't a single member of the Skool Bored, with the possible exception of Bill Hart, who is smart enough to differentiate between a bona fide expert and a con man. School construction in North Carolina is exactly like road construction here. It if confined to a cartel that charges twice or three times what the projects should cost and delivers half the quality.

I agree with Strother on repairing Nancy Reynolds, but for different reasons. While I appreciate the historical nature of the building, I think that kind of preservation is best handled by the private sector. However, just because the school construction cartel doesn't know how to do anything but throw up cheap cinder block boxes, doing a real historical reconstruction of the school would bring in talent and labor from outside the clique.

By all means, the board should hire an architect, but it should surprise everyone, do the smart thing, and hire one that has never done a school construction project in North Caroline (or anywhere else, if they really want to impress us).

Friday, January 25, 2008 6:48:00 PM  
Blogger Strother said...

While I appreciate the historical nature of the building, I think that kind of preservation is best handled by the private sector ... doing a real historical reconstruction of the school would bring in talent and labor from outside the clique.

I see exactly what you're saying, Steve.
Those capable of doing actual restoration work to a building like Nancy Reynolds School would naturally have commercially marketable, desirable skills, a list of restoration references as long as your arm, and would offer — gasp — a level of artisanship that simply isn’t apparent in any modern public school that I’ve ever seen. And if what you say about the school construction ‘cartel’ is right, Steve, such a professional builder and/or architect would likely be cheaper, too?
Tearing down Nancy Reynolds to make room for new, modern construction (likely what the BOE really wants to do anyway) is much like knocking down a unique 1928 brick tudor fixer-upper in order to roll in a doublewide trailer. Let’s hope the BOE doesn’t choose to slight the community in this way.

Saturday, January 26, 2008 1:15:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fox 8's Chad Tucker will be doing a story on Nancy Reynolds tonight (January 31st) during the Fox 8 Ten O'clock News. You will also be able to view it online at www.myfoxwghp.com

Thursday, January 31, 2008 4:58:00 PM  
Blogger Valerie (Gordy) Hurt said...

I will start with my background concerning Nancy Reynolds...

My great-great aunt was the first graduate of Nancy Reynolds and just about every one on that side of my family since then (including myself) is an alumni of Nancy Reynolds. I still live in the community, only a couple of miles down the road from the school. I drive past NR every day on my way to work and recall many fond memories from my time there...

NOW...
Guess where I work?!

MOOREFIELD ENGINEERING -
The structural engineering firm that prepared the structural feasibility study for Nancy Reynolds!!!

I helped work on this project and I happen to take offense at anyone who tries to discredit the results of the report. I am not an engineer or an "expert" myself, but it doesn't take an expert to see the obvious.

Also, you think it would be a good idea to hire an architect from out of the area who knows nothing about designing an educational facility? Yeah, that sounds like a great idea! NOT!

And about this:
"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."

Hmm... We can find a firm who will do THIS project for FREE, but we will be strapped to a contract for future projects for who knows how long...

Well let me say this:
YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR!
and
NOTHING COMES WITHOUT A PRICE - They will get their money out of you one way or another!

AND WHAT MAKES MOOREFIELD ENGINEERING BIASED EXACTLY? The fact that everyone who works there currently lives in or is from Stokes county? I think it is ridiculous that people would rather deal with people they know nothing about, that are from who knows where, and that could give a rat's behind about Stokes County. WAY TO SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL BUSINESSES!!

BOTTOM LINE:
A lot of hard work was put into that report and I believe it to be genuinely accurate. What is the most important thing here? Preserving a building, or the safety of the children, teachers and other staff at Nancy Reynolds?

Thursday, February 21, 2008 12:07:00 AM  
Blogger Strother said...

Ms. Hurt:

Thanks for the post.

I do appreciate your unique perspective as well as your comments regarding this original post.

I don’t think that anyone has tried to discredit the results of the structural feasibility study by your firm. It is obvious that the school is in need of serious repair work. It is also obvious that the reason the structure is in this state is because these issues weren’t addressed earlier — when it could’ve been an easier and cheaper job for the county to fund. Regardless, it now needs to be addressed, and I’m sure that many people are more than grateful that Moorefield Engineering found what it found.

As I stated in this original post, "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.” I specifically said this because I believe that the community largely supports the preservation of this landmark rather than tearing it down to build a new, modern structure. Furthermore, engineers aren't architects, and vice-versa. If the thought is to try to preserve the building — which I think is the predominant thought amongst community members (whose taxes, I must note, obviously have not been going to the upkeep of their community’s center for decades) — someone with experience in preserving historic buildings must be consulted with and subsequently hired.

To be clear, no one has mentioned any bias here. However, the board and commissioners, before electing to do anything in the way of spending millions on any preservation or construction project, should have more than one commissioned, paid-for study on the subject. That way, any future accusations of "bias," on any level, will be moot points.

Finally, you ask, "What is the most important thing here? Preserving a building, or the safety of the children, teachers and other staff at Nancy Reynolds?"

Well, after talking to many in the community about this, they are equally important. In many ways, the preservation of this building is a community issue more than it is a county issue. The historic structure and grounds are a gift to the community — not from the county, but from the Reynolds family. And because the county inherited this gem for a dime and never took care of it as they should have, it's time for them to accept responsibility, take initiative, and do their absolute best to preserve what is the community's most valuable public asset.

Thursday, February 21, 2008 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger Kurtis said...

I'm considering moving my family of four from Greensboro to the Westfield community in spite of record gas prices and the prospect of over an hour commute to work (one way). Why? The city is full of cookie cutter neighborhoods and have long since lost much of the architectural and societal character of rural life. I'm ready to trade in my 0.2 acre postage stamp lot for 5 rolling wooded acres. I want my kids to have places to explore and dream. The fate of Nancy Reynolds weighs heavily on my decision to move to Stokes County, as this is the school my children would attend if we were to go through with the move. I urge the Stokes School Board to do the right thing by restoring and once again celebrating this historic landmark, as a shining centerpiece of the community.

Friday, March 21, 2008 10:32:00 PM  

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