Monday, June 2, 2014

Ittner's Hempstead School Damaged but Should be Saved!

News coverage of the fire Saturday evening at the William B. Ittner designed Hempstead School made it seem that damage to the structure was far worse than actually occurred, with a fire fighter quoted as saying they were unable to save the building and reports of a partial collapse. I feared the worst when I decided to detour my Sunday morning run due north up Hamilton Avenue to have a look. 

The did fire completely destroyed about a quarter to a third of the sloped tiled roof structure, but the remainder of the roof, while somewhat damaged is structurally intact. The buildings brick exterior walls remain completely intact with no collapse as had been reported.

A close up of a collapsed dormer over the east stairwell. Notice also that the windows below tis area of the worst fire damage are also fully intact, meaning that the fire itself did not fully reach and destroy the 2nd floor classrooms. How is this possible you may ask? The answer is "Fireproof Construction", which essentially means that the structural elements of the floors, interior and exterior walls and probably the 2nd floor ceiling structure separating the building from the attic we built of non-combustable materials. Ittner was an early advocate of using fireproof construction in all new schools that he designed, and a 1908 Annual Report of the Board of Education lists 34 new "fireproof" schools, including Hempstead built in the previous 11 years. The ceiling structure of the attic of the fireproof Sherman School, which I recently had a chance to tour, is concrete.

It was fairly typical to allow combustable construction in the attic since roofs and attics can be replaced, but children in classrooms below cannot. Today's building codes still have a lower fire resistance rating required for roofs in some construction types.

Tiles of the roof west of the entrance are damaged, but the structure is intact, it appears flames did reach the west dormer before being extinguished.

The beautiful main entrance of Hempstead School facing Minerva Avenue.

The rear of the school from the southeast shows some additional attic damage over the rear of the east wing, but again seemingly no fire damage to rooms below.

The flat roofed center rear wing also appears undamaged. The chimney at the upper right shows where the portion of sloped roof over the front of the school was completely burned.

A view from the southwest shows the west wing roof also fully intact.

A close-up view of one of the crenelated entrance towers.

While fire has destroyed a significant portion of the decorative roof, the school building itself remains fully intact and sound. While Hempstead School closed in 2003, It has been surprisingly well maintained, including the very important gutter system, which appears to be relatively new. It is very possible to construct a relatively inexpensive low-slope temporary roof structure to replace the missing portion of the decorative sloped roof to protect it from weather until a full restoration can be done as part of a larger project to rehabilitate the building. 

The St. Louis School Board should at a minimum fund this action to mothball Hempstead School until a new owner or use is found. This would be far less costly than un-needed hasty demolition, and would preserve this beautiful National Register asset for future use.

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