After the fire at South Arkansas Community College

I huffed a bit after climbing the steep stairs to the third floor of the newly re-dedicated Thomas Administration Building at South Arkansas Community College. I had skipped the elevator in order to see everything in the new interior.

The little lady who joined me on the top floor walked into a room once filled with student desks and chalk boards. She shook her head, “It looks so different from when I took journalism in this room in high school.” The journalism classroom now serves as the board meeting room. It’s been decades since the chalk boards disappeared from the classroom. Now a very large, new flat screen television provides information via Power Point or televised programs.

A few years ago, I sat in that same room as a journalist covering board meetings. It used to be smaller. To do my job I squeezed around the table, found a chair along the wall and balanced a reporter’s notebook on my knees as I scribbled notes. The new chairs look a lot more comfortable.

A fire 19 months ago sent fire fighters to the roof of the administration building. They poured a pond of water over entire building. It soaked everything and flowed to the basement. The entire building had to be redone: ceilings, walls, floors, furnishings.

Outside the room hung the photographic history. Before flooding everything the firefighters offered to save what they could before drenching the fire. “They carried those pictures out with one under each arm,” College president Dr. Barbara Jones recalled at the re-dedication of the refurbished building

In the hall, I looked around the perimeter of the hall. “No more exposed conduits for electrical wiring.” I said. The guide/staff member agreed. In the 1980s and 1990s electricians could barely keep ahead of the electrical demands during the explosion in computer technology.

The new clean look contrasts with what I saw as a non-traditional student. Then, the make-do wiring in the old facility could not be ignored. At the time students and community affectionately called SouthArk “the Twig” because it was a branch of the college in Magnolia. Back then, my math class with Mr. Culbreth met in a longer existing building. A year or two after graduation, I sat in my car across the street and watched the wrecking crew knock down the last wall of that oddly wired old building.

No more exposed conduits. And, no more antique tin tiles on the ceiling. I couldn’t tell the difference when I looked up at them.

“We took tile from the old ceiling and had a mold made to replicate the replacement ceiling,” the staff member explained.

“The one thing we heard over and over again as the crew worked was, ‘this old building has good bones.’” Dr. Barbara Jones said. She detailed the layers of brick and thick beams of pine that created the building decades ago. “We left some brick exposed so you can see them.”

Well, that explained the plain wall of ancient bricks behind the flat screen in a smaller conference room. I like the look of those ‘good bones.’ Mostly though, I saw newly painted gray walls, new ceilings and shiny new floors. “The pine floors warped. They had to go. They put in oak,” the staff member said.

I left the building through the east door, stepped down the steps and turned left toward the old gym with its age darkened bricks, the peeling veneer on the old doors and flecked paint. It underscored the truth about any facility: the task of upkeep never ends. One building done; another awaits its turn.

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