Former Clay School Building Set for Inspection Wednesday

WHEELING – An inspection of the former Clay School in East Wheeling is set for Wednesday as city officials want to deal with concerns about the condition of the building, which spans almost an entire block of 15th Street.

Economic and Community Development Director Nancy Prager said the city’s concerns include the condition of the former school’s roof, parapet and several broken windows. She noted no raze-or-repair order has been issued for the property at this time.

Located on the northeast corner of 15th and Wood streets, the Clay School was closed in the mid-1990s. Several years ago, city resident Darryl Baynes bought the building in hopes of converting it into a combined recreational facility and science center for area youth, but has been unable to find funding sources to help him realize that dream.

He previously estimated it would cost about $1.5 million to renovate and open the school’s lower levels for community use. According to Baynes, the goals for Wednesday’s inspection are twofold – figure out what needs to be done to secure the building within the next six months, and obtain a cost estimate in the event it needs to be torn down.

“I’m realistic. … If I can’t get it done, I can’t let it sit forever. I understand that,” Baynes said of the 83,000-square foot structure.

He said he’s even open to selling the building if someone else has an idea for it, but no one has shown any interest thus far. Baynes said after paying $65,000 for the building, he’s invested about $150,000 in it since and doesn’t want to see the property go to waste. In the beginning, he also received donations for the effort.

“I’ve had every window in that building replaced before, and people broke them out,” said Baynes. “I do the best I can.”

Baynes said city leaders have been very supportive of his desire to contribute to the revitalization of East Wheeling, and he remains optimistic his plans for the Clay School building can be carried out.

“My building is in much better shape than the Orrick building (was) when they did that,” said Baynes, referring to the former Wheeling Stamping Building, which the law firm Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe repurposed 10 years ago for its Global Operations Center. “So I know it can be done.”

Mayor Andy McKenzie said there are many positive things happening in East Wheeling, all of which “go hand-in-hand,” including the Vandalia Heritage Foundation’s soon-to-be completed housing units, the planned J.B. Chambers Recreational Park – which will sit directly across the street from Baynes’ building – and the conversion of the former Robinson building on 16th Street to a West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources office building.

He added he hopes the Clay School property will be a part of an overall rebirth for the neighborhood.

McKenzie said he would reserve comment on the condition of the Clay School building until after the inspection, but he pointed out even if the structure ultimately is torn down, it doesn’t mean Baynes’ science center can’t eventually become a reality in a new building.

“We’re very supportive of Darryl Baynes and his project,” he said. “But I don’t think the project and the building are necessarily the same issue.”

Baynes, a former resident of Philadelphia, runs a nonprofit organization known as Interactive Science Programs, and travels across the country teaching students to have fun with science. He said other countries graduate engineers, mathematicians, chemists and physicists at much higher rates than the United States – and he believes teachers at all levels need to do a better job instilling a passion for math and science in their students at an early age.

Baynes said when a child does develop that passion, it is all too often snuffed out by college and university professors who make doing research a priority over teaching their students.

“That’s why I do what I do … teaching teachers how to make science more understandable and fun for their students,” said Baynes.