Friday, May 21, 2010

21 MAY 10: Baker's Oven

Columbus has plenty of old brick buildings - and Thursday provided another example of how difficult things can be when one of them catches fire. Crews had to watch for potential "hot spots" in the damage of the old Baker High School. At least the school alumni cooled down on their own....

Graduates of the old Baker High School drove to Benning Drive to stare at the fire damage, take pictures - and in some cases cry. A few people probably were stunned by the show of emotion. Those are the people who can't wait to see Carver High School bulldozed for a replacement.

Columbus Fire crews had to tear down one of the school walls Thursday, because it was considered unstable. In Pine Mountain Valley, they'd bring in the high school football team to take care of this job...

Columbus Fire Marshal Thomas Streeter says during Wednesday night's fire, part of the third floor of Baker High collapsed onto the second floor. In fire lingo, this is called "pancaking" - which makes it unlikely Columbus South Inc. will want an IHOP built on that site.

The Baker High fire was so large that 70 firefighters were called into service to contain it. WLTZ noted a Phenix City fire truck even was on standby - which marked that station's biggest stretch so far to make a Columbus event fit into "Alabama First News."

One online comment I read Thursday claimed several Columbus fire trucks could not be used at the Baker High fire, because support trucks carrying fuel broke down. I admittedly never stopped to think about where fire trucks fill their gas tanks. Especially since Texaco doesn't sell "Fire Chief" gasoline anymore....

Muscogee County School District officials insisted Thursday nothing of major value was still inside Baker High School when the fire started. The last seats from the school auditorium were sold last week. Whoever bought them must be kicking themselves -- because they could have had those chairs at fire sale prices.

Yet there were also reports Thursday that a few desks were still in storage at Baker High School. If they're not considered to be valuable, they must be the few lacking in student doodles and graffiti.

Columbus Fire inspectors estimate Baker High School sustained $500,000 in damage. The amount could have been much higher - but let's face it, the peeling paint on the school doors was quite old.

The Baker High fire was brought up by a blog focus group Thursday night. One woman actually speculated the school district might have set the fire, to cut down on demolition costs. I should have asked the woman if she also thought the mysterious barge that allegedly hit the New Orleans levee drifted over to that broken offshore oil rig.

My first guess Wednesday night was that homeless people inside Baker High school might have sparked the fire accidentally. Fire Marshal Thomas Streeter admitted to WRBL vagrants have lived there from time to time, but he did NOT think anyone was there Wednesday night. Besides, fire crews were too busy to look for suspects in nightclubs along Victory Drive.

Muscogee County Superintendent Susan Andrews told WTVM she did NOT want to see Baker High School burn down. But a few alumni sound like they're accusing the district of not doing enough to make the building presentable and useful again. No condominiums, no health clinic for veterans - and now it can't even be used anymore for "old school" dances.

Baker High School alumni want some sort of memorial built, perhaps using bricks from the building. But where should that memorial go? At the site of the fire? At the current Baker Middle School, a short walk away? Or did a hot dog stand on Moon Road already turn into a Baker memorial years ago?

Let's see what else had people stopping and staring Thursday....

+ Four candidates for Columbus Mayor appeared together for a forum at the main library. Zeph Baker told WTVM he wants to create a culture of "inclusive prosperity." If that means he'll buy me a nice steak dinner, I won't object at all....

(Teresa Tomlinson declared she wants to do what she says Columbus has failed to do for ten years. She wants people to move back into neglected neighborhoods. Now will all real estate agents please cooperate, and NOT use the word "neglected" in front of families transferring from Fort Knox?)

+ Jim Wetherington presented his final "Mayor's Awards" before leaving office. He gave one to Nationwide Homes, for its work on the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition house in Harris County. That's nice - but it seems incomplete. Where was the award to Buford's Brownies, for providing baked goods to the construction crew? That business actually is based in Columbus, after all....

+ Auburn city officials staged a surprise parade for grade-school music teacher Phil Wilson. Wilson has been named Alabama Teacher of the Year. But if he wasn't led to Ogletree Elementary School by a marching band, it only proves his point about arts funding.

+ WLTZ showed land being cleared along Interstate 85 in Lee County for the "Celebrate Alabama" project. But Opelika Mayor Gary Fuller admitted construction will NOT begin until the economy improves - which means we first have to celebrate bank loans.

+ Fort Benning held a diversity luncheon, marking Asian-American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month. For some reason, one display table included a Tokarev pistol. Russia could have been marked in other ways - and I'm sure a few long-time soldiers have souvenir bottles of vodka.

+ TIC Federal Credit Union opened a new Phenix City branch on U.S. 280. If I heard the news correctly, it's arranged so customers and tellers can see transactions on the same computer -- opening the way for both sides to contribute to a Facebook "Farmville" project.

+ Atlanta stunned Cincinnati in National League baseball 10-9, by scoring seven runs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Only one thing could top this as Georgia "comeback of the year" - but I'm really not sure Roy Barnes can win the governor's race.

COMING THIS WEEKEND: We change the pace while taking a weekend break for Pentecost, and mark a big anniversary (look for it Friday evening)....

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