By Stefanie Jackson — The 2007 report on the poor physical condition of Northampton High School may have been titled, “Another Brick in the Wall,” but over a decade later, the story of the original 1954 structure and 1978 addition may be better titled, “Another Brick Out of the Wall.”
A recent tour of both the exterior and interior of the school, conducted by Northampton schools Director of Operations Chris Truckner, revealed shifting, misaligned brickwork, large cracks in walls and floors, and, most notably, a hole in the wall of the music room where a concrete block popped out one night and was found on the floor the next morning.
The 1954 structure has two major strikes against it: It has sustained nearly 65 years of wear and tear, and was constructed solely of brick and mortar, with no metal supports to provide stability as the structure is continually exposed to freezing and thawing weather conditions, and building materials expand and contract.
The structural engineering firm, Speight, Marshall, & Francis, P.C., first inspected the school building in 2007 and reported the condition of the 1954 construction “can best be described as poor.” Structural damage was said to be “extensive and needs to be addressed immediately or the level of damage will increase exponentially.” The firm recommended completely reconstructing the 1954 building since the cost to repair would be more than 60 percent of the cost to reconstruct.
About 10 years ago, structural engineers reported the condition of the 1978 high school addition as “good,” and “not progressed to the point of no return,” but acknowledged there were structural issues requiring attention “in the near future.”
Unlike in the original 1954 structure, the brick and mortar walls in the 1978 addition are fitted with metal expansion joints, but they are insufficient, said Truckner, who is also a civil engineer. Some of the structural damage is worse in the newer construction than in the older construction, he continued. In the 1978 section of the school, it appears the mortar has fallen away at most of the expansion joints and was replaced with putty.
In the summertime, Truckner has found damage so severe, he could raise his hand to an exterior wall and feel the air conditioning blowing outside from the classroom.
Inside, the flooring is cracked, the roof leaks and ceilings have been replaced. The gym was intended for use as an emergency shelter, but does not meet safety standards. Accomack has emergency shelter locations it shares with Northampton.
In the mini gym, or wrestling room, the walls shifted so much that they pushed a section of padding off the wall and onto the floor.
The most dramatic structural damage appears to be in the music room, where a concrete block fell out of a wall, and there are several large, vertical cracks. Cracks begin forming at a wall’s weakest points, Truckner said, explaining why they usually appear in the layer of mortar binding the bricks together, forming a staircase pattern. When cracks run vertically down the wall, straight through bricks or concrete blocks, it indicates the walls are bearing an enormous amount of pressure, Truckner said.
In Truckner’s opinion, a new high school is in order, but thousands of dollars that could help pay for it must be funneled to endless projects repairing structural damage posing safety issues. Northampton’s schools and community continue to wait for supervisors to make a hard commitment to a new high school, and in the meantime, Truckner keeps plugging the holes in the dike as best as he can and hopes the dam doesn’t break.