Taylor Middle: History gives way to shortcomings
The air conditioning – there’s always something wrong, somewhere in the building. That goes out a lot. Sometimes, we don’t have heat. We have to call in somebody right away. Sometimes, the kids sit in the classrooms with their coats on.
— Rosey Johnson, head custodian
Taylor Middle School
350 E. Shirley Ave., Warrenton.
1952, with addition in 1981.
93,410 square feet, three stories.
• Parking spaces:
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Second of two stories
Two flights of steps separate the Taylor Middle School boys’ locker room from the gym.
The school’s kitchen staff must leave the building to use a walk-in freezer.
Taylor’s elevator serves only a portion of the school, posing assorted challenges for disabled students and teachers who want to cart laptops and other equipment among classrooms.
Constructed 64 years ago as the county’s high school for black students and named for prominent local educator William C. Taylor (1850 to 1952), the building also presents kitchen, maintenance and library issues.
Major upgrades or replacement would cost tens of millions of dollars. Estimates range from $27.5 million for renovation to $33.6 million for construction of a new school.
Working with consultants, a committee will make its recommendations for Taylor and Warrenton Middle to the school board by early next year.
Taylor’s faculty express “mixed emotions” about whether the school should be:
• Renovated and expanded.
• Replaced by a new building.
• Combined with Warrenton Middle in a new building, which could accommodate 1,000 students. Under one scenario, a consolidated school on the Taylor site and a 10-classroom addition to Auburn Middle near New Baltimore would cost $61 million.
“Initially, I thought preserve both schools,” Taylor Principal Ruth P. Nelson says. “But, as I got more educated, I’m seeing that other things may work better.”
The $61-million consolidation plan “makes sense,” because it “benefits all three schools,” Ms. Nelson says. “Auburn gets a piece of the pie.”
But, the principal will remain uncommitted until an advisory committee completes it work.
FauquierNow reporters recently spent a day in each building to observe and to talk with those who work in the county’s two oldest schools. This report provides an overview of Taylor Middle School.
Librarian Megan Reynolds does bus duty.
At the end of the day, buses depart at about 2:25 p.m.
Some parents picking up students arrive as early as 1 p.m. On busy days, their vehicles can back into the turn lane along East Shirley Avenue that serves the school.
“It’s just a hazard,” Ms. Reynolds says.
End-of-day congestion also represents a potential emergency services nightmare, according to sheriff’s Deputy Mundy Crummett, the Taylor school resource officer.
“If rescue ever had to come at bus call to the front” of the school, “they wouldn’t get there,” Deputy Crummett says. “Between the buses and the parents – because there’s only one ingress/egress – you’re stuck. If, God forbid, there was ever an emergency right at pick-up, it’s a mess.”
“It has its challenges, because it’s so small,” Cafeteria Manager Cheryl Mazanetz says of the kitchen, sliding a tray of French toast into an oven. “When you have four other women working, you try not running into each other.”
In such close quarters, “it takes only a second” to burn somebody with a hot pan, Ms. Mazanetz says.
The kitchen prepares about 75 breakfasts and 280 lunches a day, she says.
If Fauquier upgrades Taylor, “I hope they give us more equipment,” Ms. Mazanetz says. “The ovens are as old as the school.”
The cafeteria manager also hopes an upgrade will include a convenient, walk-in freezer.
“The freezer’s downstairs, in the boiler room,” Ms. Mazanetz says. “You have to go outside.”
Kitchen staff must leave the building, through a back door, down five steps, and re-enter it through a set of double doors labeled: “Electric.” Behind the doors – to the right – stands the walk-in freezer.
“It’s really bad when you get out there in the winter and when it rains,” Ms. Mazanetz says. “Everyone’s amazed that it’s down here.”
The sixth-grade science teacher calls it his “Santa list.”
“It’s be nice to have a prep room for materials,” says Wayne Brizzi, in his 17th year at Taylor. “We have just one sink. It’d be nice to have some regular science stations.”
His classes average 22 students, says Mr. Brizzi, who coaches Fauquier High’s boys varsity basketball team.
Add a projector on a cart and the room gets cramped.
“It’s a little small if you have a full classroom,” Mr. Brizzi says. “Just getting around as you teach, sometimes it’s a challenge, with the book bags and stuff. It’s good to have a little agility in that case.”
He favors a new school.
“I think it’s time,” Mr. Brizzi says. “And, I hope they do something with Taylor that’s positive, because of its tradition.”
Meanwhile, the veteran educator remains thankful for small things.
“It’s good to have a classroom,” Mr. Brizzi says. “We do the best with what we have. It’s not a problem. Some people might not have a classroom they go to every day. They might move from one classroom to the next.”
“Every time we have SOLs (Standards of Learning) testing” at the end of each school year, “I lose my library for a month,” Librarian Megan Reynolds says. “There’s no research or anything going on.”
A computer lab would solve that problem, says Ms. Reynolds, who proctors SOL exams.
Compared to some middle school libraries, Taylor’s “is very, very antiquated,” she says. “The space is not very modern and the furniture isn’t very modern. If you listen out there, the kids are shifting in their seats, and all it does is creak and crack.”
Ms. Reynolds’ office – off the library – has no heat or air conditioning.
“It gets a little chilly” during the winter, she says. “I just never shut my door.”
The former geography teacher has doubts about a 1,000-student consolidated middle school that would replace Taylor and Warrenton.
“Because of where they are emotionally,” middle school students “need to have an identity,” Ms. Reynolds says. “They don’t need to be lost in the sauce. Here, everybody knows the kids, and calls them by name.”
Assistant Principal Kim McKinney shares that concern.
While Ms. McKinney has never taught at a 1,000-student middle school, “I know with a small population, you can get to know the kids better.”
Because of their ages, middle schoolers need “good relationships, with people who personally know them and care about them, where they’re going and can make connections with them,” she says. “And, that’s huge.”
Ms. McKinney worries that “some kids would fall through the cracks” at a 1,000-student middle school.
But, she believes proper staffing and an “advisory period” would help.
Taylor could use a computer lab, Instructional Technology Resource Teacher Patricia Johnson says.
A lab, rather than the school library, would be used for SOL testing, Ms. Johnson points out.
A lab also would allow more “collaboration among students,” she says.
Teachers also “kind of like the idea of a lab, where they can take the class, so there’s a different setting,” she adds.
“WiFi is also a struggle sometimes,” Ms. Johnson says. “We’ve got a couple of rooms that don’t get good reception.
“It would be nice to have all new stuff, but I don’t know if that’s going to come.”
Head Custodian Rosey Johnson offers a straight-forward solution to Taylor’s maintenance woes.
“We need a new school,” says Ms. Johnson, who supervises five custodians.
Fauquier’s General Services Department “fixes things, but it doesn’t last long. I don’t know why.”
Taylor’s heating and air conditioning systems frequently fail, she says.
“The air conditioning – there’s always something wrong, somewhere in the building,” says Ms. Johnson, who has worked at the school for 21 years. “That goes out a lot. Sometimes, we don’t have heat. We have to call in somebody right away. Sometimes, the kids sit in the classrooms with their coats on.”
Besides keeping the school clean, her custodial crew cuts grass – except for ballfields – and shovels snow from sidewalks, Ms. Johnson says. As needed, they assemble furniture.
For all its faults, Taylor has been constructed to last, Ms. Johnson says.
“If we had an earthquake, tornado, I think this building would hold up better than any other building, because it’s so old and it’s well-built.”
Boys must climb 24 steps — up two flights — to reach the gymnasium.
Keeping them on task and getting changed for physical education class can get “tricky,” Physical Education Department Chairman Ron Watkins says.
But, “we’ve made it work,” Mr. Watkins says. “We’re not losing a lot of instructional time – maybe three minutes at most – because things are moving.”
Monitoring the stairway can be “challenging” for Taylor’s four physical education teachers, Mr. Watkins says.
Teachers supervise the locker rooms while students change into their gym uniforms.
A teacher remains in the gym, near the entrance, to keep an eye on students as they enter.
Another teaches health, in a basement classroom, with a limited view of the bottom of the stairway that leads to the gym.
“We don’t have anybody outside to monitor this flight of stairs, where the kids go up and down to the gym,” says Mr. Watkins, a Taylor teacher for 23 years.
Feeling rambunctious, the students sometimes pound metal panels in the stairway and ride the handrails, he says.
“Everything travels down that hall, noise-wise” and disrupts classes, Mr. Watkins says. “I’ve always wondered what it would be like to have a boys’ locker room right off the gym.”
The basketball court has seen better days.
Over the years, repeated sanding of the original floor has made it “razor-thin” in places, Mr. Watkins says.
“It’s got a few dead spots in certain parts,” he says. “You dribble the basketball, the ball’s going to die.”
Taylor has a softball field but no regulation-size baseball diamond.
That means the boys’ baseball team must play its games elsewhere. Warrenton Middle served as the team’s home field last year.
“The boys want their own turf to defend, and they ain’t got it,” says Deputy Mundy Crummett, Taylor’s school resource officer and athletic director. “And, that makes them a little miffed.”
Posing safety problems, the softball field has a manhole and numerous gopher holes in the outfield, Deputy Crummett says.
“There’s a whole gopher community out there.”
Taylor’s top soccer players don’t join the school team because of substandard fields, according to Deputy Crummett.
“Some of our best soccer players quit,” she says. “Their parents won’t let them try out for middle school, because the surface is so bad. They’re worried about knee injuries, ankle injuries. Our fields are terrible.”
But, Mr. Watkins proudly notes that Taylor has the only track among Fauquier’s five middle schools.
“When the fields are real nasty and muddy, we can get on the track and get some cardio-vascular endurance in.”
Art teacher Amy Ashman’s classroom has three large windows, which admit plenty of natural light.
More, large windows would help, says Ms. Ashman. So would more and bigger cabinet drawers to store student art, she adds.
Believing that the teacher — not the room — makes the difference, the idea of a consolidated school for up to 1,000 students doesn’t bother her.
“I see it as a pro,” says Ms. Ashman, who attended Taylor as a student and started teaching there five years ago. “I’ve worked at a (high) school with 1,700 students. If you have the space for the children, so what’s the difference of having 400 versus 1,000?
“It’s more children, but that doesn’t mean the class sizes have to be bigger
. . . . (The school) will be larger, but I don’t see that as a bad thing.”
A larger school — with more teachers — could mean a greater variety of classes and sports options, she says.
It also could provide teachers richer professional experiences, “because you have more people to work with collaboratively,” Ms. Ashman says. “I like getting different viewpoints from a lot of different people, rather than just a few.”
A 10-by-10-foot box, Taylor’s clinic has no windows, no heat, no air conditioning and little privacy.
“Because of its size, it’s tough if you have multiple students – more than three” at a time in the clinic, school nurse Thelma Gaskins says. “In that situation, if a student wants to talk about something private, I usually take them out in the hallway.”
The clinic includes Ms. Gaskins’ desk, a patient bed, filing cabinet, shelves, counter and a small restroom.
“It’s the smallest (school) clinic in the county,” she says.
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Circle1d · November 22, 2016 at 1:30 pm
William C. Taylor High School was built the same year I was born. I was privileged to have attended school there for 3 years. Although I understand the need for a new school, it saddens me to see think of it no longer being there.
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