By Sandra Wilkerson Queen
Education and Business Reporter for The Paper
A grand old lady has held court on the grounds of the North Carolina School for the Deaf, then the North Carolina School for Science and Mathematics-Morganton (NCSSM-M) for almost 100 years.
Her windows and roof are worn and look a bit shabby, but her stately brick exterior and her “bones,” the walls and beams that have supported years of service to students, stand strong and proud.
While some may see Joiner Hall as past her prime, administrators at NCSSM-M see nothing but potential in the historic beauty. Vice Chancellor and Chief Campus Officer Kevin Baxter said the hall will soon be alive with student activity.
History books say it cost $50,000 to build Joiner Hall in the 1920s. The building has been boarded up for many years, but NCSSM-M leaders had their eyes on the venerable, three-story structure since the day they set foot on campus.
“We are bringing it back to life because it had fallen into disrepair,” Baxter said. “We had always envisioned this being part of our project, but we could never afford the full renovation.”
Now, thanks to almost $8 million in funding from the North Carolina General Assembly, Joiner Hall will again be a vital part of a school campus.
“We are grateful to the general assembly for helping us to bring this building back to life and fully make it operational,” Baxter stated.
Joiner Hall had stood quietly behind NCSSM’s gleaming new academic building, but since November, the old hall has come alive.
A new chain-link fence surrounds the building. Backhoes, wheelbarrows, and cement mixers line the now-hollow shell of the building. Construction workers wearing hard hats and brandishing all manner of equipment report to the grounds for work each day.
The revitalization effort is expected to conclude by the end of 2024. According to Margo Metzger, NCSSM’s Strategic Communications & Initiatives Associate, this project will transform the hall into a contemporary educational space, featuring advanced classrooms for art, data science, and computing.
Joiner Hall, originally built in 1930 to accommodate the expanding needs of the North Carolina School for the Deaf, is named in honor of Miss Enfield Joiner, a pioneer in deaf education. The original building contained 20 classrooms.
Currently, the three floors are hollow shells. Crews have demolished most interior walls and removed the massive windows on both sides of the structure.
Baxter recently detailed plans for the building. The ground floor will be divided between two large work areas for the school’s visual arts program. One side of the lower level will be home to a visual arts drawing studio and the other side will contain a ceramics studio, complete with a kiln.
“The intent is to leverage those massive bay windows so, as you are walking on the main walk here on campus, you can look down and see them (students) producing artwork,” said Baxter.
The second floor of Joiner is a cavernous, open space. Large window openings flood the room with natural light. The middle floor will be home to new data science and computer science classrooms.
Data science is one of NCSSM-M’s graduation requirements and Baxter explained that those classrooms will look a little different than traditional classrooms. He said computer science and data science rooms feature student tables well-suited for group work. The rooms will be equipped with large display screens where students can share their work with others.
According to Baxter, the new classrooms will be ideal for coding and programming and are designed for small-group engagement. “This is a huge value add to the curriculum,” Baxter stated.
The top floor of Joiner Hall is awe-inspiring, even in its current state. Huge wood beams stretch upward, supporting a vaulted roof made of gypsum panels.
According to Chad Barrow, Director of Capital Projects and Morganton Facilities Management, the roof design is unique to a specific period of time, the 1920s, during which Joiner was built.
The upper floor of Joiner will be home to a modern professional development space which will feature two arc-shaped seating areas with professional seating for meetings. The room will be outfitted with projection screens, making it an ideal space for faculty gatherings.
Plans for the remaining space are still under consideration, but Baxter said they may include a board room. Barrow said designers plan to preserve the high ceilings on the third floor, by keeping the drop panels at a height of 10-12 feet wherever possible.
Baxter said he hopes Joiner Hall will be open for business in a year.
“We are very hopeful on the first day of spring semester 2025, we will be able to move programming and have it running in this building,” he stated. “We are very aggressively going toward next January.”
For now, the NCSSM-M community can look forward to the day when the grand old lady is once again the belle of the ball on campus.
This story originally appeared in The Paper February 3, 2024 and is reprinted with permission. Sandra Wilkerson Queen is the education and business reporter for The Paper. She may be reached at 828-445-8595, Ext. 2002, or via email at email@example.com.