Leader Blues

Saturday, November 15, 2008

TOP STORY > >School slated to close Monday

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

While engineers assess the condition of the roof at Clinton Elementary School, classes are cancelled for Monday and Tuesday, Pulaski County Special School District officials said Friday.

Beginning Wednesday morning, those students will attend classes at First Assembly Church, 4501 Burrow Drive in North Little Rock, according to district spokesman Craig Douglass.

This is good news for Sherwood Fire Chief Frank Hill, who had considered ordering the school closed. Hill is slated to meet with Mayor Virginia Hillman, the city engineer and a building inspector Monday.

The church, which previously loaned the district its facilities after a tornado caused extensive damage to Sylvan Hills High School and prior to that when Sherwood Elementary School burned, has again stepped forward to help.

Thirty-eight rooms at the church will be converted to classrooms to accommodate Clinton’s 755 students.

All teachers and support staff will be relocated to the church, Douglass said.

Crystal Hill Elementary School, which has similar roof problems, closed its doors last Monday and like Clinton Elementary, will remain closed until engineers, architects and school officials determine whether they need to fix or replace the roof and then until the repairs or replacement are complete.

After a week off, Crystal Hill students will return to class Monday in portable buildings now set up at Maumelle Middle School.

“Our first priority is the safety of our students and to provide a secure environment in which our academic curriculum is not compromised,” according to Superintendent James Sharpe. “Although the truss situation at Clinton is different than at Crystal Hill, parents need to have confidence and piece of mind that their children are safe. Conse-quently we are moving ahead with the same safety-related strategy at Clinton as we have done recently at Crystal Hill.” Sharpe and his staff have been criticized for proceeding too slowly in removing students from the buildings after engineering reports questioned the integrity of the roofs, and the school board is considering firing Sharpe.

The need for an assessment of the building was the result of a periodic screening of the roof support structure, including trusses treated with a fire-retardant material at the time the school was constructed in 1994.

The September report was issued by WJE Associates of Bingham Farms, Mich., and reviewed by Crafton Tull Sparks, a Little Rock engineering firm. Engineers will be in the building next week to review the trusses referenced in the WJE report.

The review protocol will be similar in nature to the engineering review of the truss support structure at Crystal Hill Elementary Magnet School in North Little Rock. Crys-tal Hill and Clinton were both referenced in the WJE report, Douglass said Friday.

At the school board meeting this week, Sharpe said the three factors differentiating the two schools’ construction: Clinton was built in 1994, while Crystal Hill was built in 1992; the fire retardant chemical used at Clinton was Pyro-Guard, which is thought to be less acidic, and less sensitive to heat and moisture than the Dricon chemical used at Crystal Hill; and the design loads at Clinton have a higher safety factor than do the structural loads at Crystal Hill.

That’s why Crystal Hill was shut down a week ago, while Clinton will be shut down beginning Monday.

The 2008 report apparently was received at the district about Sept. 19, forwarded to administrators a month later, sent to an engineering firm for further assessment, and, according to Sharpe, brought to his attention Nov. 7, at which time he ordered Crystal Hill shut down for the safety of the children.

For more information on the relocation of students to First Assembly Church, parents and others are asked to call 501-320-1271. A parent meeting is scheduled at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the sanctuary of the church.