How creativity and Lowe’s restored a high school library
By Noble Sprayberry
After storms ripped across the county on a March night in 2012, Sascha Creech and her family raced to the building attended by generations of students.
“Our school had been prone to roof leaks in the past — our building had a flat roof,” says Creech, the library media specialist for Wolfe County High School. “When we walked in after the storm, we could hear water pouring like someone had turned on a huge faucet.”
In the library, a partial roof collapse and rain destroyed books, computers, shelves and carpet. “We tried to save what we could, but water was still pouring in from the outside,” she says.
The damage was a blow for the school’s 350 students. “Unfortunately, books don’t take to water very well,” she says. “We lost about 60 percent of our collection.”
A rebuilding partner: The Lowe’s Toolbox for Education
Soon, though, work started to create a new library. The school’s then-curriculum coordinator, Jennifer Carroll, applied for a grant from Lowe’s.
The company awarded the school a total of $93,683. “The first thing I did was to have a good cry, because I couldn’t believe we had this money,” Creech says.
The grant was made through the Lowe’s Charitable and Educational Foundation. “The Lowe’s Toolbox for Education program delivers on the commitment of Lowe’s to improve the educational environment for students across the country,” says Maureen Ausura, foundation chairwoman. “We’re honored to work with Wolfe County High School to support the needs of our local students, teachers and families.”
Creating the “Ski Lodge”
With finances secured, Creech started the planning necessary to rebuild. She hoped to create a place students would find far more welcoming than the aging library.
“I asked myself what I could do to make this a place students would want to come,” she says. “I didn’t want them to remember the picture of this being a horrible, foul place. Many of them had seen the destruction.”
The 15-year-old carpet, destroyed by water during the storm, was removed, leaving bare concrete.
“We wanted the look of wood, but in a library, the sound of wood is not a good thing,” Creech says. “You want it to be quiet. So, we went with a commercial-grade vinyl tile like they use in the malls. It’s softer when you walk on it, but it looks like wood.”
Not only does the floor absorb sound, but it is also water-resistant and has a lifetime warranty. “It was a no-brainer,” she says.
As the design evolved, she focused on creating a functional, welcoming atmosphere in a windowless library.
“I just kept looking at the concrete walls in here. At first, I thought paint,” she says. “But, I wanted a look that wasn’t like anything else in the building.”
She worked with Lowe’s employees to settle on manufactured stone. “It’s like sheets with runners,” she says. “You screw it into the walls like you would vinyl siding. It looks like stacked stone, but without the mortar.”
With stone walls determined, the rest of the design took shape. “I decided to go with a lodge feel, so it would be warm and inviting in the winter and the summer,” she says.
Students have embraced the redesign, even providing their own spin on the resource. “Some of the student now call it the ‘ski lodge,’ and it does have that sort of feel,” Creech says.
New books and tools
While the library was refreshed, there were some hard losses. While some books were spared, many were not. “We probably lost some old classic books that you can’t replace now. Those books are reprinted and new, but there’s just something valuable about an old book,” Creech says. “It’s how it looks and feels.”
Insurance, however, provided about $15,000 to restock the shelves. Two other businesses also helped.
Creech says Follett books donated more than 1,000 books, and the Garrett Book Company provided about 200 books. “These were all brand-new, high school-level books,” she says. “We were able to exceed the previous collection by a bit.”
Also, a grant through the Appalachian Renaissance Initiative allowed the school to replace electronics, including 22 iPads. Additionally, an accompanying cart for the digital tablets serves as a wireless Internet hub.
The library was not the only part of the school that benefited from the support of Lowe’s. Creech says the company also provided about $1,000 for improvements elsewhere in the school building.
“We had some of the stone left over, so we also spruced up the cafeteria,” she says. Paint, wood trim and other touches brightened the space.
“It wasn’t damaged by the storm, but before it wasn’t a very inviting place,” she says.
Similarly, Creech says she has seen a difference in how students use the library. “I’m not sure if it’s because of how it looks, or because it was closed for a year, but traffic is definitely heavier,” she says.