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Church school faces expensive options

March 24, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

BOLIVAR, W.Va. -- A report on a March 10 inspection by state fire marshals at a 44-student private religious school has left school officials with three choices -- all expensive.

Bob Adams, spokesman for Bolivar Christian School at 87 Old Taylor Road, said school leaders can decide to correct the deficiencies in the fire marshal's report, build a new school building or leave the students in a current temporary facility at Rocky Spring Church on Leetown Pike.

"We have three choices but the board hasn't decided on anything," Adams said. "Ideally, we want our school back."

The school's troubles surfaced Feb. 20 when William Zaleski, a sanitarian with the Jefferson County Health Department, went to the church to check on a new septic system being installed. The school's four classrooms are in the church basement.

Zaleski, according to the Rev. B.G. Turner, the church pastor, wandered into the classroom area and noted the absence of fire alarm and sprinkler systems. The next day he returned with his boss, Amy Jones, director of the health department. They told Turner they would order the school to be closed. Turner received the order to remove the students Feb. 23.

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That was followed Feb. 26 by a meeting between the health department's board of directors and school officials. At that time, attorney Harry P. Waddell, representing the school, criticized health department officials for overstepping their authority by closing the school. Waddell said the fire marshal, not the health department, monitors fire code violations.

Health Department board members and Jones did not back down from their order to close the school.

Adams said the fire marshals, "while they were very flexible and accommodating, did a very, very thorough inspection."

The five-page report said, among other requirements, that school officials had to install a fire alarm system, "something we really knew we needed," Adams said.

Concerning the lack of a sprinkler system, school officials can meet that requirement by adding exit doors in each classroom instead of sprinklers, Adams said.

"In general, they (fire marshals) said sprinkler systems are not required in schools," Adams said.

The report included a list of problems with other things, including width of corridors, storage spaces, exits, window openings, stairway problems, emergency lighting and carpeting.

Adams also said the fire inspectors were "upset with the health department. They said they would not have shut us down."

He said everything in the inspection report was "doable" as far as church finances are concerned, but it is up to the board to decide what will be done.

"There is a close connection between the church and our school," Adams said. "The school is a church mission."

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