There is growing unease with Columbia Elementary School, and we think another professional engineering assessment — a second opinion — is needed before classes resume in a few weeks, especially given that several board members have expressed doubts about using the building in its current state.
If that second opinion confirms the earlier engineering assessment, it provides parents, teachers, administrators and the community with more peace of mind that the 92-year-old building is safe.
If it doesn't ...
Either way, it would be money well spent.
A May report from Neil Tappana, a professional engineer based in Webb City, notes cracks in the original school building may have been there for decades, but are now worsening. Settlement, undermining and other problems mean he cannot guarantee the building's safety beyond two years.
“Based upon my observation, the cracks at the east wall also appear to be several years old,” Tappana said in his report. “However, it is possible that some of them are increasing in size as a result of the original storm shelter excavation. ... In my opinion, the cracks do not pose a serious structural hazard at this time. However, they will most likely increase in severity and may, at some point in the future, compromise the structural integrity of the building.”
There also are eight crack monitors tracking movement of the Columbia safe room, which was added in 2016 but has been determined to be unsafe for use as a storm shelter. However, it is still used as a gym.
Recent comments from school officials have left us apprehensive.
• Superintendent Melinda Moss: “What might have been a sleeping giant now is accelerating. We feel like (students) are safe for now; we’re just not sure how much longer that will be.”
• Kerry Sachetta, assistant superintendent of operations, when asked if Columbia is currently safe for occupancy: “As we sit here today, yes, but that’s why we’re monitoring it, and we’re sticking close to the experts. We don’t want anybody in a situation where the school isn’t safe.
“We’ve been monitoring observationally the east side (of the school) for a long time, but we feel it’s accelerating. It’s an uneasy feeling.”
• Board member Lori Musser, a former principal at Columbia: “I am putting faith in our experts to let us know when the building is no longer deemed safe for use. It is hard to tell when that might be. It could be next month, next year, two years from now or 10 years from now. The uncertainty is what causes the urgency for me.”
• Board Vice President Brent Jordan, at a recent work session: "I have a concern as an educator and board member of even utilizing that facility in its current state. ... I don’t think our kids are safe in this building.”
• Board member Deborah Gould, who said at a recent work session that during a tour of Columbia a few years ago she saw a piece of rock fall from the ceiling of the safe room: “I know as a parent, if my child was going there with what I saw, I have concerns with the school and the condition that it’s in."
Tracy Horton, Columbia PTO president, and Sharrock Dermott, board president, have both brought up the possibility of a second assessment.