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Clayton Art Project Comes Down Over Concerns About Potential Fire Hazard

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CLAYTON, N.C. — Clayton Middle School is not losing its art program, but an art teacher said after a decade, the school is losing one of its most popular projects and it is not by choice.

Art teacher Deborah Coates has a passion for creativity. Through a Johnston County grant, painting ceiling tiles became her most popular project.

"Our classroom, they make it more lively and you learn off of them," student Jason Tarkington said.

Teachers love the tiles because math and history are incorporated into the lesson. At Clayton Middle, everyone enjoyed looking up to view the tiles. Now, you have to look down to find them. They have gone from a place of honor to the storage room.

The State Department of Public Instruction said more than 400 painted tiles had to come down. An inspector cited a state code that said if you alter a tile in any way, it can reduce the tiles' capability to slow a fire.

Coates and her students were disappointed. The art teacher started calling the paint and tile companies, looking for assurances the painted tiles were still safe.

"I got e-mails that said in our opinion, it's safe, but you need certain tests," Coates said.

The tests would cost about $1,500, so the tiles are now gone.

"We are not putting on extra coating, not adding extra water to them to damage them where the water would soak through in any way, shape or form, I feel like they are safe," Coates said.

Coates said she feels as if fire inspectors in the past thought the tiles were safe since they have been up for 10 years.

"Most likely, it's because there is a new inspector with a fresh set of eyes who caught this," said Dr. Ben Matthews, of the state Department of Public Instruction.

So now, one tile will be framed in each room and the school is asking the PTA to support the framing of more tiles.

A representative with the State Fire Marshall's Office said the code is open to interpretation and non-flammable paint on a ceiling tile would probably be safe. However, she said it is hard to fault an inspector for airing on the side of caution when it comes to children.


Melissa Buscher, Reporter
Robert Meikle, Photographer
Kamal Wallace, Web Editor

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