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Fair Street dealing with crumbling classrooms

Leaks, temperature issues are daily problems at school

POSTED: March 12, 2011 11:43 p.m.

Fair Street tour

Take a tour of Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School and hear about the building's problems from Assistant Principal Kim Davis.

SCOTT ROGERS/The Times

Plastic protects bookshelves and tables from a leaking roof Thursday as DeAnn Smithson, a first-grade teacher at Fair Street International Baccalaureate World School, works with Christian Maldonado, 7. School officials hope to replace the building using funds from a special purpose local option sales tax for education, which is up for vote Tuesday.

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After the forecast called for rain Wednesday, Amy Hamilton spread plastic tablecloths over computers in her school's library.

Down the hall, teachers collected buckets and extra trash cans for their classrooms.

The staff were using what they could to catch water seeping through the deteriorating roof at Fair Street International Baccalaureate School in Gainesville.

These "indoor rainy days" have become more common at the school in recent years, said Hamilton, a media specialist. "It usually comes through the ceiling tile, near the lights. One time, the rain seeped into the storage room, where a lot of our computers are concentrated, and ruined a few."

But leaks aren't the only issue.

The elementary school has a sinking subfloor and several rooms are too hot in the summer, too cold in the winter.

Cracks form across the walls and in the floor tiles.

Plumbing issues are frequent.

"This is a very old building, and it's beginning to crumble around us," academic coach Carol Brinson said.
But the staff is hopeful the school will be replaced soon.

Voters will decide on Tuesday whether to approve a 1-cent sales tax for education. Funds from the special purpose local option sales tax for education are used solely for school construction work and equipment in Hall County, Gainesville and Buford. If approved, one of the first Gainesville City Schools projects will be to raze Fair Street and rebuild.

"With the way the world is changing, we have to do this," said media clerk Kendall Thompson, who attended the school. "We can't provide the best to students in a building that's 75 years old."

Fair Street Principal William Campbell said the facility wasn't constructed well to begin with and has aged poorly. Fair Street was built for African-American students in 1937 during the era of racial segregation.

"It's no secret that back in the day, schools for black kids were substandard," Campbell said. "Before the days of codes, it didn't have to meet expectations."

Officials say renovations were made to meet growth, but few have been significant. Safety inspectors recommended students only be housed in the building for two more years before either the needs are addressed or the building is condemned.

In the meantime, challenges crop up daily.

Fifth-grade teacher Brenda Colbert has worked at Fair Street since 1979. Her classroom is in one of the oldest parts of the building where heating and air conditioning systems are badly out of date.

"In the summer, we have classes outside if it's really bad and pull fans in the door," she said. In the winter, "we stay bundled in coats."

Campbell said plumbing is a constant headache.

"The bathrooms are cleaned daily but they always smell bad and water forms on the floor," he said. He added that water fountains sometimes produce discolored water.

Friday afternoon, a toilet in the boys bathroom wouldn't stop running.

When it's not water from faulty plumbing, it's rain finding its way indoors.

Gifted teacher Kelly Fuchs said her windows extend to the floor, causing puddles in her classroom.

"It does take away from instructional time and impacts
their learning," Fuchs said. "The students need an environment where they can focus."

Two years ago the school was evacuated when water leaked into the building's electrical panels.

"We were worried the building might explode," Brinson said. The students were housed at other schools until that part of the roof was patched.

The roof today contains a collection of small patches made by district maintenance crews who travel often to the school.

"Every time they fix one part of the roof, we spring a leak somewhere else," Brinson said.

School staff explained that Fair Street isn't only used by students; it's also a community center. Groups schedule events at the elementary school and local residents browse books in Fair Street's library on weekends.

"If we had a new building it wouldn't just help the teachers and students have an easy day at school," Fuchs said. "Everyone would be impacted by the positive changes."

If the SPLOST passes, school leaders will be ready to begin work.

Officials have met with architects and created a 50-page educational specifications draft. The new building would be two stories, Campbell said.

Teachers said their hopes for a new building are simple.

"I would like a safe and sound environment that's conducive to learning," Brinson said.

Students also weighed in on ideas for a new buildingStudents recently penned essays for the question, "Do we need a new Fair Street and why?"

Kanesha Goss wrote, "This school was built for my grandmother. She is 60 or something like that."



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