ALBEMARLE — The West Stanly High School and Middle School wrestling teams recently found themselves without a home after their practice facility at Ridgecrest Elementary was shut down by the county’s fire marshal on Dec. 1.
Stanly Fire Marshal Danny Barham has since confirmed to SCJ that the Ridgecrest facility has reopened on Dec. 8 following a satisfactory reinspection. Both schools were notified that wrestling practices can resume.
Stanly’s fire marshal initially issued a stop-work order and locked the doors of the facility after a fire inspection discovered a failed alarm system, blocked fire exits, and nonfunctional emergency exit signs.
Although the school at Ridgecrest has been closed down for over a decade, the Colts’ wrestling team has used the building as its practice location; West was forced to relocate to West Stanly Middle School while the facility was closed.
Stanly County Schools Maintenance Director Keith Benton and SCS Director of School Safety and Security Jennifer Flowe were notified of the situation by Marshal Barham.
At the Stanly County Board of Education meeting on Dec. 5, Benton addressed the school board with an update, adding that SCS is collaborating with a fire control company and the fire marshal to get the practice facility back and running.
“On Dec. 1, during the inspection, it was found that the analog board and the fire panel were in trouble mode,” Benton said. “Certified installers have been contacted and we are contracting with them currently right now to purchase the new board and install the new board, which should take place tomorrow.”
He confirmed that a successful fire inspection had been completed in March but that the motherboard of the analog system had been “taken out” by a natural power surge between then and now.
The broken alarm was not the only issue that required a solution.
“During this inspection, the fire marshal also found that there was not enough ample room in the classrooms or hallways to allow firefighters or safety personnel to gain needed access in case of an emergency in the building,” Benton said. “Stanly County facility staff — along with custodial support — worked diligently yesterday and today to clear all hallways and provide a three-foot walking path from the windows through the classroom and to the hallways.”
Items were removed from the school and taken to the metal scrap yard and recycling center where SCS received a payment.
While SCS has taken recent actions to remedy the situation, some local parents of West Stanly wrestlers have blamed the school district for waiting until fire inspectors forced their hand.
During the public comment section of the meeting, concerned parent Matthew Shutt voiced his displeasure with SCS, who he said has used the Ridgecrest facility as a spot to dump old classroom equipment from throughout the county, leading to extensive clutter.
“My son got locked out of his practice facility because we failed,” Shutt said. “I just overheard a conversation with the gentleman sitting up here that said we just found out about all this. How did you people not know what was going on at the other end of the county and the serious nature of what was going on? I think everybody up there knew that the ugly property was over there.”
“I appreciate you doing something,” he added. “But let’s make it right. Let’s figure out who failed, how they failed and when they failed to hold them accountable.”
Later in the meeting, Board Member Dustin Lisk agreed with Shutt that the school system had experienced a “breakdown in communication” that needs to be addressed.