Local News in Virginia

Booker T. Gets A ‘Refreshing’ Over The Summer

As they  unloaded from the school buses and  walked up the sidewalk to the entrance of Booker T. Washington High for the first day  of school, a gauntlet  of civic, political leaders and school alumni welcomed each one of the students.

The event was designed  to show community support and inspire the students to achieve academically over the next nine months.

Apart from that community gesture, the students entered a building which underwent extensive “refreshing” over the summer to repair structural,  mechanical and  other landscaping problems at the school.

Recently the GUIDE received a document called the  “BTW Facility Refresh” from the Chairman  of the Norfolk School Board and compiled by the NPS Superintendent. It detailed a checklist  of 91 items which were addressed.

The list covered various scheduled and “unscheduled”   items related to  basic custodial  efforts, work on  various mechanical  systems such as heating and air conditioning,  electrical, plumbing, painting, carpentry,  athletic and recreation spaces, pest control, landscaping and even  pressure washing the exterior of the building.

City and school division technicians and contractors coordinated the restoration efforts, which began shortly after the last school year ended on June 13,  through July and until early August.

The items on the list were broken down into  “scheduled” and “unscheduled” work. Among the   “unscheduled” work were installation of carpets in the  school’s media center, screening, painting and resealing the school gym floor,  sodding of the football field,  replacing lights and fixtures which held them.

While most of the work on the list was listed as “completed,”  there were five of them which were  not. They are to be completed  and finalized at the earliest by September 15 and as late as December 15.

The documents detailing the  refreshing of  BTWHS came a week after Norfolk Councilman Paul Riddick  suggested that  the district close the school and  send the students to an alternate site, until  it was certified that mold and other obnoxious elements were removed from the building.

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A letter accompanying the itemized list, from Norfolk School Superintendent Dr. Melinda Boone, addressed that issue to  arrest any public concern.

To correct any environmental issues the  list indicates extensive repairs to school environmental systems, including the installation of a new cooling tower for the school’s air conditioning system

On September 30, the temporary “air screw” system used to cool the building will be replaced with the new unit.

Boone’s letter explained that the new unit “will result in better cooling and humidity control in the building and thus reduce any potential for mold development due to humidity.
The major projects of a new roof and mechanical system were not addressed during this summer work, the letter stated.

The air quality assessments conducted in March and May 2017 did not reveal any mold that met or exceeded unhealthy environmental standards,” she continued. 

Boone’s letter indicated  the final costs  of the work has not been calculated.

Motivating factors behind the disclosure of “refreshing” efforts at the school may be in response to the work of the Concerned Citizens of Booker T. Washington High School, and the BTW Alumni and Friends Association.

The Concerned Citizens held a recent meeting where they perused the  list of items on the “refresher” list issued by NPS.

For  two years, according to the group’s chairwoman, Vivian Hester,  it has sought to  reach out to city council and NPS officials about the erosion of the physical and environmental condition  of the school, “but got no response.”

During a city council meeting  on June 21, Concerned Citizens, BTWHS alumni and supporters crowded the governing panel’s chambers and  expressed their concerns about the condition of the school, including the mold.

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The demonstration may have prompted the City and NPS to undertake the  extensive “unscheduled” repairs and cosmetic work to the school  which is  only four decades old.

“I am pleased. It was disturbing to  allow a public school to be in that level of disrepair,” said  Hester. “Why did  the concerned citizens  have to get involved  for things to get better?  Why did we have to go to the school board and council?

“I attended the freshmen orientation  before school opened and the children and their parents  were so excited,” she continued. “We want to sustain that.  Now that the repairs have been made,  they do not have to worry about  being ill from mold or the restrooms being fixed.”

Several years ago, each of the division’s high schools was given an academic designation. Booker T.’s  was the School of the Arts, Hester said.

“But there is no evidence of it,” said Hester. “I entered  the ‘art’ room  which was supposed to be refitted … but all I saw was  old and outdated equipment dating back 15 years. There was no  new and high tech  equipment there to educate our children.”

Hester said getting the division to fulfill the promise of making the school “The School of the Arts”  is on the Concerned Citizens’ agenda. She said the group will reach out to  professionals in the  arts  and consult the Norfolk State Theater Arts Department  and other resources to accomplish  this goal.

Another agenda item  for the Concerned Citizens is monitoring the educational status of students from the elementary and middle schools which feed the population at Booker T.

She said it is important to determine the level of preparation these students are having as they are  placed in the pipeline to attend, not only Booker T. but other schools in the  division.

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter

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