By Stefanie Jackson – One of Northampton High School’s oldest sections, constructed in 1954, should be demolished, an architectural firm has concluded.
Superintendent Eddie Lawrence agreed with the recommendation of architectural firm Waller, Todd & Sadler, of Virginia Beach, Va., about the 1954 building, labeled Area A on a floor plan.
“I see no way to save Area A,” he said.
“We all saw those pictures a couple years ago. We removed that brick veneer,” Lawrence said. Photos revealed that the concrete wall behind the brick exterior had sustained extensive damage.
Area B, also built in 1954 but renovated in 2009, can be saved with additional repairs.
Area C, the addition built in 1978 that includes the high school’s front entrance and gym, needs renovations.
“It has enough structural integrity that, with a new roof and some major upgrades” the building’s lifespan “can be extended,” Lawrence said.
Area D, a small addition built between 1954 and 1978, can also be salvaged.
A new addition would need to be built before demolishing Area A, which contains the cafeteria, kitchen, auditorium, and more than half a dozen classrooms and labs.
Lawrence estimated it would take about one year to construct the addition and demolish Area A.
Waller, Todd & Sadler has not yet recommended where to construct the addition, but Lawrence would like the new building to face the road, where “the public can see it.”
“I have argued for six years that part of the way we get new businesses in Northampton County is to improve our school system, and one of the ways you have to improve your school system is how it looks,” he said.
“If you’re going to spend this kind of money, it needs to … be visible from the road. I think that makes it a better sell for the public.”
Lawrence would also like to address safety issues concerning the “long walk” students must take to the front entrance.
School board member Randy Parks asked if the addition could be bigger than the area it will replace. Lawrence said it would depend on how much money Northampton County supervisors are willing to spend.
Construction of the new building and renovation of the existing buildings would not occur simultaneously, but in phases. The timing of the phases will depend on how long it takes to fund them, he added.
“This is totally up to the board of supervisors. … I’m not promising anybody anything here,” Lawrence said.
The entire school needs a new roof, but Area C is the first priority. The roof on Area A will likely be patched, not replaced, since it has been recommended for future demolition.
Areas C and D need new windows and lintels (the support beams installed above the windows), and in Area C, the gym needs all-new lighting.
County supervisors recently approved a budget appropriation of $10,000 for emergency repairs in Area C, where a brick wall is bulging due to bricks coming loose from the concrete wall behind it.
Lawrence was “pleasantly surprised” that the study found very little mold or asbestos. Only one room showed any evidence of mold and a “minimal amount” of asbestos was detected.
Waller, Todd & Sadler’s report is the second opinion of the structural condition of Northampton High School.
The firm’s conclusions appear to align with those of structural engineering firm Speight, Marshall & Francis, also of Virginia Beach, which reported more than a decade ago that the condition of the 1954 school building “can best be described as poor,” and the 1978 addition has “not progressed to the point of no return” but needs repairs “in the near future.”
Waller, Todd & Sadler’s next task is to conduct a study of how well the school building accommodates Northampton middle and high school students’ educational needs.