Saving Former Clay School Would Be Costly Proposition

WHEELING – Contractors touring the former Clay School in East Wheeling on Wednesday said it may take no more than a heavy snowfall to send stone blocks weighing hundreds of pounds and a shower of bricks from the top of the building to the sidewalk and street three stories below.

Merely securing the building to keep the public out of harm’s way easily could cost six figures, they said, and a new roof could be at least $400,000 to $500,000 – possibly more depending on the amount of deterioration underneath the existing roof.

Faced with this information, local scientist Darryl Baynes must soon decide whether the colossal 15th Street edifice he purchased about a decade ago with a vision of opening a recreation and science center for area youth has become too much of a financial albatross to maintain.

“It may come down to a numbers thing, whether it makes more sense to tear it down or fix it,” said Baynes, who operates a nonprofit company and travels around the country teaching children how to have fun with science.

Jack McKeever, owner of Angelina Stone & Marble in St. Clairsville, said a significant section of parapet on the building’s facade is bowed outward several inches, and he pointed out at least two large limestone blocks set into the front of the building that have shifted and could come down at any time, he said.

The building is located directly across from the site where the city razed an entire block of homes in order to build a recreational park that will include a sports field, basketball courts and a playground, expected to open next year.

“It’s going to get somebody hurt,” McKeever said of the former school building built in the 1940s.

Baynes said he planned to call a fencing contractor shortly after meeting with city officials Wednesday afternoon to erect a barricade to keep people off the sidewalk and cars from parking in front of the bowed section of parapet, which is located toward the southeast corner of the building. Jerry Wilhelm, enlisted by Baynes to write grants for his science center project, said he would contact legislators about obtaining emergency funds from the state to stabilize the building.

Economic and Community Development Director Nancy Prager said she hoped to provide Baynes a rough estimate of what it would cost to demolish the 83,000-square-foot building within the next week. Baynes isn’t giving up on saving the building just yet, but he said he wants to make a decision within the next six months.

Those on hand for Wednesday’s inspection included Baynes; city building inspector Frank Wilson; McKeever and Brian Harvey, also of Angelina Stone & Marble; Matt Mansuetto of Mansuetto Roofing; and John Dolak and Gary Zadai of Roofers Local 188 in Warwood.

Baynes had approached the roofers’ union about the possibility of using apprentice labor to help with repairs, but Dolak and Zadai said they felt the job was too dangerous and extensive for inexperienced roofers.