The collapse of a plaster ceiling in a Woodlawn School classroom is prompting calls from parents and at least one school board member for a structural inspection of the building.
"We're just lucky it didn't happen while students were sitting in the classroom," Cheryl Gillaspie, co-president of the Woodlawn PTO, said Tuesday.
District officials say plans are in the works to repair the ceiling, which collapsed about two weeks ago, and reinforce the ceiling in other Woodlawn classrooms. But given the district's response to other Woodlawn problems, some parents question whether the ceiling problem will be adequately addressed.
Craig Fiegel, the district's director of business and facilities, said it was about two weeks ago that Woodlawn custodians noticed that a drop ceiling in one of the classrooms was bowing. Just hours later, a plaster ceiling crashed through the drop ceiling to the classroom below.
"It's just age, I guess," Fiegel said. Woodlawn, 508 Elm, was built in 1924.
Fiegel said maintenance workers will clear away any plaster ceiling remaining above the classroom and replace the drop ceiling. He said workers then will reinforce the plaster ceilings in all the classrooms on the second floor.
Fiegel said that reinforcement will be accomplished by running 2-by-4s across the ceilings and fastening the boards to ceiling beams using long screws.
But Gillaspie thinks a thorough inspection of the building is in order.
"They just want to patch it to get by, and there's no way they can just patch it," Gillaspie said. "The school hasn't been inspected for I don't know how long. It needs that."
The district hired Craig Patterson and Associates in 1991 to inspect Woodlawn and six other older schools in the district. However, Fiegel said, that inspection was "cursory" and designed to identify only severe structural, mechanical or electrical problems.
"If something appeared to be a problem that needed further investigation, we would have done further testing," Fiegel said. "There was no observation of anything (at Woodlawn) that would be of great concern."
Lawrence school board member Tom Murray said he thinks a more detailed investigation of Woodlawn should be conducted.
"I think it is absolutely imperative that the current condition of all structural components of Woodlawn School be thoroughly examined by licensed professional engineers," Murray said.
Lawrence City Commissioner Bob Moody, who this fall will have two children at Woodlawn, said several parents also would like an inspection, if not by professional engineers, at least by "qualified individuals."
"Several of the parents that I have talked with very much want the district to have an inspection of the rest of the ceiling to make sure there is no chance that it's going to come falling down on children," Moody said. "They're very fortunate this happened in the summer."
Moody said the district's track record of responding to Woodlawn problems could be one reason parents fear the planned ceiling reinforcements could be inadequate.
He said the roof in the Woodlawn gym leaked for at least three years before the district decided to install a new roof. He said water often would drip into light sockets and even cause the gym lights to go out during class.
Even with the installation of the new roof this last school year, water continued leaking into the gym. Fiegel said workers finally stopped all the leaking last month when they closed off a previously unsuspected source: some old windows in the gym.
Moody said he thinks the leaky gym demonstrates the need for a thorough inspection of the school.
"If you have a leak in the gym, why would you not look for leaks elsewhere?" Moody said.
But Fiegel said he doesn't think such an inspection is necessary.
"That could be a real expensive proposition," Fiegel said. "I don't think there's any reason to think that we have anything unusual."