Construction aplenty on TMP campus
By DIANE GASPER-O'BRIEN
One crew is working on a project to transport people easily to any floor of a four-story building.
Another is making space to help people quickly evacuate a building in case of a fire.
Major construction projects are underway in the two main buildings on the campus of Thomas More Prep-Marian Junior-Senior High School in Hays.
Construction Brokers Inc. of Kansas City, Mo., is in the final phase of installing an elevator in the four-story administration building that houses the biggest share of the classrooms for the Catholic school for grades seven to 12, as well as offices and the school auditorium.
Meanwhile, employees of Commercial Builders Inc. of Hays are busy building necessary fire escape exits in Al Billinger Fieldhouse.
That project, which includes building a hallway through the wrestling room that leads to the outside on the northwest corner of the fieldhouse, was prompted by the State Fire Marshal.
TMP was notified by the State Fire Marshal's office in September the maximum number of occupants safely allowed in the bleachers in the fieldhouse is 49, based on the location and capacity of current exits.
The school's architect drew up plans and received the building permit for the fire escapes the week of Christmas, and construction began immediately.
The hallway with firewalls is being built along the south wall of the wrestling room and will provide people a court-level exit through the wrestling room doors and down the new hallway to the outside.
TMP still is able to use the fieldhouse for basketball practice but has made other arrangements for home games until the fire exits are completed.
The first home games in December were played in the St. Joseph Parish school gym, formerly Kennedy Middle School and still commonly referred to as Kennedy. Because of an expected large crowd for last Friday's contests with Ellis County opponent Victoria, those games were played in Fort Hays State University's Gross Memorial Coliseum.
TMP Principal Kathy Taylor said the fire exits are expected to be completed next month. The home basketball games with Russell on Jan. 17 will be played at Kennedy. The next home games are not scheduled until Feb. 11, and Taylor said plans will be made accordingly as completion of the fire exits draws near.
The wrestling team, whose home opener was at Kennedy, also has had to find alternative space for practice with construction ongoing in its regular practice space. The mats were moved from the wrestling room to the canteen on the west side of the fieldhouse.
Taylor said she is pleased with how "everybody has been so positive and upbeat."
"When you have that kind of positive support, the challenges are surmountable," she said.
The crews working on the elevator project also have encountered some unexpected challenges along the way.
One of those involved cutting through 18-inch brick walls in the 82-year-old administration building.
"We had to order a special saw to get through the bricks," said Jeff Doelling, the job superintendent for Construction Brokers.
Even then, Doelling said, the crew had to improvise because the saw "is designed to cut through 16 inches."
"This is a tough old building, a crazy strong building," Doelling said of the administration building.
"You could shoot a cannon at it, and it wouldn't fall," Doelling added.
"When you talk about working with an older building, you run into things you don't expect," Taylor added. "It was quite providential this (fire escape construction) happened over (Christmas) break, so disruption will be minimal."
The elevator project has been ongoing since early in the fall semester, and covered barricades were built around the holes for the doors on each floor to "create as little disruption as possible" for students and teachers, Doelling said.
1Coincidentally, TMP also had a nest egg that provided money for the fire escape project, which is estimated to cost approximately $70,000.
TMP received an $80,000 refund from Midwest Energy Inc. last year because of a broken meter that overcharged the school's energy bill.
Taylor said that money originally had been planned for transportation use but will go toward the fire escape project instead.
"Talk about a blessing that we had that," Taylor said of the Midwest Energy refund.
Construction on the administration building began in 1925, but in the midst of the Great Depression, wasn't completed until 1931.
The fieldhouse, on the contrary, was built in a year-and-a-half time frame, begun in 1949 and finished in 1951.
Since the beginning, the fieldhouse has been used for a myriad of activities other than basketball, including the annual ACE auction the last weekend of April.