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Masonry students from West Rowan High build symbolic benches for new elementary school

CLEVELAND — For the job before them Monday afternoon, six masonry students from West Rowan High School wielded familiar tools of the trade — trowels, shovels, levels, strings and mortar boards.

But this was a special assignment. Before them were two pallets of bricks from the 1920s. One pallet held bricks from Cleveland Elementary School; the other, bricks from Woodleaf Elementary.

The students’ job was to build two simple benches, representing each of the schools. The benches are positioned near the main entrance to the new West Rowan Elementary School, symbolizing the two schools that will come together to form the new West Rowan Elementary School.

The new school will open Jan. 7. It is located off U.S. 70 between School and Mimosa streets.

“We wanted to do something commemorating the two schools coming together as one,” Principal Kris Wolfe said.”This was an awesome idea.”

Chris Nuckolls, director of construction for Rowan-Salisbury Schools, echoed that the school system sought to honor the past. Having the benches made by students, some of whom went to the Cleveland or Woodleaf schools, seemed like a fitting tribute.

Students building the benches Monday included Ashton White (a 2017 graduate), Cyress Brown, Eric Menendez, Gabe Coffield, Corbin Bolick and Grant Helms.

They split into two teams — three students for each bench.

Before the work started, they received a pep talk and even some career advice from Jason Jones, the Barnhill job superintendent for the site. He was as excited about the students’ help as the several teachers and school officials who watched them work.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” Jones told the kids.  “… Let’s have fun today with it. Let’s make it look good. I want the folks in the community to enjoy this. I think it’s a good thing.”

Jones also told the students that not everyone is meant to go to college, and he said the construction industry is hunting for skilled people, especially masons.

He said there’s a difference between true masons and block layers, as there is a difference between electricians and wire-pullers. He pushed them to build on their technical industry skills and said they would readily find good jobs after high school.

“That’s my little spiel,” Jones added.

Rich Hogan, field operations manager for Southeastern Contractors, had his guys mix up the mortar, or “mud” as the masons call it, and the students took measurements and sprung into action.

Their work boots became caked in another kind of mud — the red clay kind — as they laid the brick on the construction site that has yet to be landscaped.

Providing some quick words of instruction and encouragement was Jon Kennedy, construction teacher at West Rowan High, who specializes in woodworking and carpentry. He was filling in for the students’ masonry teacher, Rodney Harrington, who had another commitment.

“They’re good,” Kennedy said as the students looked at some drawings and prepared to get started. “They’re just standing around to be polite.”

Also accompanying the students was Derek Young, career development coordinator at West Rowan High. “The conditions were quite challenging, but I think the students did a great job,” Young said.

The benches made Monday — they will be capped with a sandstone top matching exterior window sills on the school — will sit next to the entrance’s flagpole.

A time capsule will be buried between the benches, Nuckolls said.

Members of the Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education were able to see what the masonry students had accomplished when they toured the school later Monday.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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