Test results on the Field House at Smithfield Selma High School have confirmed the presence of mold. The findings were presented Tuesday afternoon to the Johnston County School Board and Superintendent Dr. Ross Renfrow by Patrick Jacobs, Chief Operations Officer.
Jacobs said three different types of mold were found in the building but said the spores were among the most common types of mold generally found. Jacobs also shifted much of the blame for the issues with the Field House to Principal Stephen Baker.
When Baker was first hired at SSS two years ago, Jacobs said he was asked to walk around the campus so the new principal could show him areas of concern. Jacobs said the top priorities were removing large shrubs near the front entrance, repairing cracks in the athletic track, and adding concrete near the football field and concession area to improve accessibility for handicapped persons.
Jacobs said he was told by Principal Baker two years ago the Field House was no longer in use. At the time, Jacobs said the principal wanted any sources of revenue directed towards construction of a softball field.
Jacobs, who oversees construction at all school facilities, said he became aware of mold concerns at the Field House in a text from former Superintendent Dr. Ed Croom on February 22nd. Jacobs said he sent word to Principal Baker to keep everyone out of the building but he later learned students were still going into the facility. Jacobs said Baker was informed a second time to keep everyone out and to make certain, Jacobs ordered the building padlocked on February 29th.
To further communicate his concerns, Jacobs said he personally reached out to Baker twice but each time the principal was in meetings.
Jacobs said he met with a cleaning company on Tuesday morning and was in the process of having a new roof installed on the building when he was contacted by Dr. Renfrow and told to “stand down.”
A number of parents of student athletes at SSS have asked the Field House be torn down and a new one constructed. That was also the request of Smithfield Mayor Andy Moore and members of the Smithfield Town Council in a letter written to the school board on March 2nd.
School Board Member Keith Branch asked Jacobs how much a new Field House would cost. Jacobs said he did not know.
School Board Chairman Larry Strickland issued two directives after Jacobs presentation. Strickland requested a meeting be held as soon as possible between Jacobs and other school leaders with the SSS principal, parents, booster club members, and the advisory council to listen to their concerns and what they want done with the building. School Board Member Donna White asked the media be included at the meeting.
Secondly, Chairman Strickland ordered Ray Stott, Director of Athletics and Student Activities, to conduct an overview of all athletic facilities on school campuses, in an effort to prevent the same problem from occurring again.
School Board Member Butler Hall asked officials to also investigate how the SSS Field House was allowed to get into its present condition.
Jacobs concluded his presentation by reminding the school board that state law requires administrators, like Principal Baker, to inspect all buildings on their campuses twice a month. Whether those inspections were done was not discussed. WTSB News attempted to reach Principal Baker for a comment, including whether he had been conducting the inspections, but phone messages were not returned before our news deadline.
(Update: 4:25 pm) Tracey Peedin Jones, Public Information Officer for Johnston County Schools, released a statement saying, “Johnston County Schools acknowledges the situation that is ongoing at Smithfield-Selma High School regarding the field house. We are compelled to find answers as to why we are in this current situation. We support Mr. Baker as principal of the school and have the utmost confidence and faith in his abilities as the instructional leader of Smithfield-Selma High School. Johnston County Schools is focused on continuous improvement and we are reviewing our processes and procedures to ensure a situation of this nature does not repeat itself in the future.”
(Update 4:55pm) Johnston County Schools respond to a question if Mr. Baker did or did not follow proper protocol. “Presently, there are inconsistencies in our evaluation of the situation. We are conducting an investigation to determine how we got to this point. Stephen Baker has always been and continues to be a model employee for Johnston County Schools.”