DAVIDSON – The Davidson IB Middle School building is up to code, county officials confirmed this week, but a loophole allows the building to exist well below current standards set for new facilities.
The multi-story building doesn’t have an elevator, wheelchair-accessible exits, a sprinkler system for fire prevention or central air conditioning, and wouldn’t meet standards set by the Americans with Disabilities Act or standards for other district school buildings, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Planning Specialist Dennis LaCaria said.
But it continues to pass inspection because, according to state law, the building is only required to meet the codes in place at the time the certificate of occupancy was issued. Davidson IB’s building received a certificate of occupancy when it was last renovated in 1948.
Assistant Fire Marshal Jeff Bostian said he inspects the building every six months, making sure there is no open wiring, the fire extinguishers are functioning properly and the exit and emergency lighting batteries are charged, among other safety measures.
But the basic safety standards set in 1948 aren’t good enough for district leaders, and that’s why leaders hope to close it by next fall. Davidson IB is on a list of district schools identified for changes that staff released last month.
Eager to save their school, Davidson IB parents have e-mailed officials, met with staff, organized a “Save DIB” march, and turned to community leaders for help. Some community stakeholders have come forward offering services, including architects and contractors, said Pam Dolaher, Davidson IB PTSA president-elect. One architect offered to draw a plan for an elevator, she said.
But the decision to renovate the building has to be all or nothing, LaCaria said. Upgrading only parts of the building is not an option, because as soon as the building undergoes any sort of renovation, it needs to be inspected, and it would then be held to current codes.
“Once you touch the building, you can’t stay in 1948,” he said. The district does not have the money to put toward extensive renovations.
The school district is proposing to move the Davidson IB program to J.M. Alexander Middle School in Huntersville, which has space for more than 400 additional students.
The move could also allow expansion of Davidson’s IB program and give more students access to it, school board member Rhonda Lennon said.
In an e-mail to board members and district staff last week, Lennon asked them to consider a partial magnet elementary school at Blythe Elementary School, Alexander Middle’s next door neighbor, saying the area’s students are “grossly underserved” for magnet schools in north Mecklenburg.
During a board work session Monday, Oct. 4, school district staff proposed making Blythe a partial IB by moving the Irwin Avenue IB program there. That would mean that Huntersville families would have the option of a partial IB program at the elementary and middle school levels, which would ultimately strengthen the existing IB program at North Mecklenburg High School, Lennon said.
“To the extent possible, we’re trying to expand access to a successful program,” LaCaria said. “Change is never easy, or in some cases wanted,” he said. “We are trying to be as responsible as we can be as stewards.”