Dayton school closes after leaky roof goes unfixed for 14 years

Dayton Public Schools has major structural problems at its historic Longfellow Academy building at 245 Salem Ave., and that school will be closed for the 2017-18 school year.

A November 2016 report from Shell and Meyer Associates identified roof leaks in both the east and west wings, but indicated that the problem in the east wing had existed for more than a decade.

“To maintain the structural integrity of the roof and ceiling framing, this repair work should be performed within the next year,” the report reads. “A previous report of this damage was prepared by Shell and Meyer Associates, Inc., for Dayton Public Schools on Aug. 25, 2003. The previous recommendations are still valid for the damage observed.”

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That same engineer’s report said in November that bricks falling roughly 40 feet from near the roof line were a safety concern for pedestrians, and the building’s perimeter should be roped off.

A visit to the school Saturday showed no caution signs or barriers keeping people away, and chunks of fallen brick were lying on the ground under the damaged areas, especially on the building’s north side.

The Longfellow school building along Salem (west wing) was built in 1880, and a similar brick building was attached just behind it (east wing) around 1900. Shell and Meyer estimated several structural fixes at $635,000, but Associate Superintendent Shelia Burton said the total cost of all needed repairs to the Longfellow campus would be about $6 million.

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Burton said the district has made $8,000 worth of minor repairs to downspouts, HVAC, electrical and plumbing systems since December. She said DPS plans further repairs to fix a hole in the roof and install security fencing.

“The building has had constant repairs and updates over several decades, (but) demands have exceeded resources,” Burton said, adding that no decision has been made on what to do with the building in the long-term.

In recent years, through this May, Longfellow has served as Dayton’s grade 7-12 alternative school, housing credit recovery programs for students who need to catch up, as well as alternative-to-expulsion and suspension programs for students facing discipline issues.

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Superintendent Rhonda Corr said those students will be served in 2017-18 at the Jackson Center facility at 329 Abbey Ave., just north of U.S. 35, where Gorman School closed in 2014. Burton said DPS has enough building capacity that the Longfellow students can easily be accommodated.

Shell and Meyer’s report identified six “critical” structural issues at Longfellow. In addition to the falling bricks and two roof leaks, there was a “severely deteriorated” staircase and two places where concrete support columns had deteriorated, exposing the reinforced steel bars, which were corroding.

The roof leak in the east wing is above classroom 305. The report said the finished floor of that room had been removed, but since the leak was never solved, now the sub-flooring is deteriorated and will need to be replaced.

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Corr said the Longfellow building is “a neighborhood staple – some people love it, some people hate it.”

Among those calling for the school district to fix the building are Preservation Dayton and several neighborhood groups in the Grafton Hill and Dayton View area. Five groups sent letters to DPS this spring.

Preservation Dayton suggested turning the school into housing, similar to the old Hawthorne Elementary in McPherson Town. Multiple groups pointed to the building as a key anchor for lower Salem Avenue, especially with Gem City Market planned for the same stretch of Salem. And the Jane Reece Neighborhood Association reminded the school board that DPS had promised good stewardship of its buildings last decade when the community backed a bond issue to build new schools.

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Grafton Hill Community Development Corporation’s letter, signed by President Cheryl Bates, said the district and school board were setting a bad example for children – “ignore a problem, let it become serious through inaction, and then seek to walk away from your responsibility.”

Bates said this weekend that her group and others hope to talk to DPS officials in the coming weeks.

“There are options for this property other than demolition, and we would really like to work with the school board to explore those and make them happen,” she said.

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