Smithfield Herald

Schools will raze SSS field house

The field house at Smithfield-Selma High School is destined for demolition.
The field house at Smithfield-Selma High School is destined for demolition. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARK LEE

The Johnston County school system will demolish the mold-filled field house at Smithfield-Selma High School, the Board of Education said in a statement issued Tuesday.

The decision comes more than two months after a parent complained to the Smithfield Town Council about moldy doorways and walls, exposed wiring and standing water in the 40-year old building.

In assigning blame for the building’s sorry state, the school system’s director of operations, Patrick Jacobs, pointed the finger early on at principal Stephen Baker. But after a review, the school system assigned no blame, saying all parties acted appropriately and that no laws or rules were broken.

Built in 1972, the SSS field house was sparsely used in recent years, acting almost exclusively as a changing room for the school’s baseball team, which plays nearby. Between last season and this one, a roof leak went undetected, allowing mold to develop while the building was locked up.

In March, a parent showed the Smithfield Town Council photos of the condition of the field house. Days before that, the school system had padlocked the building. Later, the school system held a meeting with SSS parents and then reviewed how the school and central office had responded to the matter.

The school system has not made a copy of that review available. But according to school board chairman Larry Strickland, it revealed little more than the field house needed to come down.

“The principal acted appropriately and promptly with his concerns about the field house,” the board’s statement read. “There were no violations of law or policy concerning the status and maintenance of the structure. It was an issue correctly addressed by the principal and brought to the attention of central administration.

“Again, the board wishes to reiterate the principal acted promptly and addressed the issue of the structure in a proper and appropriate manner.”

When Baker came to SSS at the start of the 2014-15 school year, he toured the campus with Jacobs, pointing out which needs he saw as priorities.

The field house came up then, but Baker did not see it as a priority, citing more pressing needs on campus, Jacobs told the school board in a meeting held after the parent complained to Smithfield leaders.

As for how mold in the field house went undetected, Jacobs told the school board that policy is for principals to inspect all buildings twice a month. That seemed to suggest that Jacobs was holding Baker responsible.

But the school system quickly said it hadn’t intended to lay blame with Baker and that it supported him fully. That statement was apparently good enough for Baker.

“The board said all along it was not on a finger-pointing mission,” he said on Tuesday. “I’m humbled and thankful for the show of faith. I appreciate the show of confidence. ... There’s a process at play.”

Strickland said the search for exactly what will replace the field house could take a year to 18 months.

“At this time, I direct our superintendent to collaborate with the principal and parents to determine what should replace the old field house,” Strickland’s statement read. “I also request that the superintendent work with the planning committee as well to immediately begin looking into replacement of the field house and to determine what type of structure could be erected.”

Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson