10:05 AM EDT, August 3, 2011
When the day started Tuesday, it looked like the long pole in the tent for deciding if school would start Thursday as planned would be the construction projects at Waynesburg and Crab Orchard Elementary schools, but problems with the HVAC systems at Hustonville and Stanford elementary schools revealed to the school board at a special called meeting Tuesday were the key factors in the decision to move the start of school for Lincoln County students back one week.
The district’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) expert, Bobby Jeffries, gave the board a sobering assessment of the situation at Hustonville Elementary. “The mold issue is extremely critical in Hustonville; the mold will put the staff and the children at risk,” he said. Building and Grounds Coordinator P. D. Roller had just told the board that a failed humidity sensor had caused the HVAC system to alternatively heat and pump moist, cool air into the south wing of the school. No one had been in that part of the school since custodians had finished waxing its floors earlier this summer, and last week it was discovered that mold had begun to form in the rooms.
Custodial teams were dispatched to clean the school, but an air quality test indicated a measurable level of mold still in the air. No one present knew how significant the 18 parts per million air quality reading was, but as a comparison, an outdoor measurement was taken at the same time as a reference and detected no mold in the air. Roller said that Trane, which installed the school’s HVAC system, said that they’d checked the ducts for mold and found none, but board member Tim Jackson was skeptical and asked that Roller get an independent assessment.
When asked if he thought the mold problem could be cleared up in two days, Roller said, “If you’re going to do anything, you need to call off the start of school for a week.” During the delay, the school would be cleaned again and box fans used to draw moisture from the effected classrooms, after which a second air quality test would be conducted to ensure the classrooms were safe to occupy.
HVAC troubles at Stanford Elementary also posed a problem for starting school on the planned day; one of the two compressors in the school’s air conditioner failed. During an inspection of the system it was discovered that a Freon gas tube had developed a leak and the second compressor was near failure. Stanford Elementary Principal Dan Story told the board that this afternoon the temperature in an unoccupied classroom with the lights turned off measured 83 degrees.
Roller presented several alternatives to the board to fix the existing system and several proposals to cool the building enough to facilitate class starting as scheduled, but each was as costly or more than just replacing the system at a cost of a little over $100,000 which the board approved. Board President Jim Kelley said that he wasn’t sure how much money was available, but was sure that at least $100,000 would be available in contingency funds.
At the south end of the county, just 48 hours before the scheduled start of school, teachers at Waynesburg Elementary were putting the finishing touches on rooms they’d painted themselves over the summer and decorating the bulletin boards in the hall. But all their work had to be done around construction workers who were struggling to meet the Aug. 4 start date.
Tuesday morning, Lincoln County Superintendent of Schools Karen Hatter visited Waynesburg and Crab Orchard elementary schools, both of which underwent significant remodeling this summer to help form a recommendation she presented at Tuesday night’s special called school board meeting to decide whether or the schools were ready for occupancy Thursday.
Remodeling at both elementary schools was slowed a little by the summer’s wet weather, but the late discovery of “unsuitable soil” at both schools further slowed work, incurred additional expense and at Waynesburg, required a change to the parking and driveway plans. The interior of the schools, particularly the classrooms and cafeterias are almost read for occupancy, but not quite. Waynesburg Principal Mark Upchurch said, “Another two days sure would be nice.”
Hatter was looking for something a little firmer and said, “I need to make a recommendation (to the school board), help me out.” Upchurch told the superintendent that he was concerned about the safety of students outside of the building, especially those students who are dropped off and picked up by parents. “The last thing we need is to have a third grader dropped off out there and run over,” he said.
Upchurch plans to have students who are driven to school let off at an offsite location and bused to the school because of the ongoing construction, and has scheduled an open house for tomorrow, Aug. 5, to brief parents exactly on what the plan is. “I need to see them face to face and explain it,” he said. Parents of students in kindergarten through 2nd grade will meet at 4:30 p.m., and those with students in third through fifth grade will meet at the school at 6 p.m.
Despite the pressure of having to make a recommendation on delaying school, Hatter was impressed the results of the teachers’ work over the summer and the last minute efforts to clean the construction debris from the school. The cafeteria surprised her the most. “I was here at 5:30 last night and the place was filthy! What happened?” she asked of an obviously pleased Upchurch. “P. D. (Roller) sent every custodian from the high school and Sixth Grade Center down here…somebody must have said something,” he joked.
Despite the hard work of faculty and staff, there is a lot of work to be done inside the school that would have been difficult to do with students around. Wires hang from walls and ceilings, exterior doors are unsealed and every room and hallway needs a good cleaning.
It was a different story at Crab Orchard Elementary. “We’ll be ready,” Principal Dreama Tomlison said when asked. Other than the driveway and parking lot, most of the exterior work left to do on school is cosmetic. Tuesday, masons were laying bricks at the school’s entrance and pillars for the front of the school were stacked awaiting installation, but inside, it was obvious construction workers and the school’s staff was in the final push.
“We’re just thrilled; I can’t wait for the kids to see their new building,” Tomlison said. Tomlison told the superintendent that if the school start was cancelled she was prepared to go ahead with a staff workday, a number of which are already built into the school calendar.
After the school board voted to delay the start of school by a week, Director of Pupil Personnel Bruce Smith, who has the unenviable task of wrangling the district’s calendar, proposed to them using planned staff work and professional development days to absorb the delay, but Director of Academics Pam Hart protested. “Staff workdays are important; those days serve an academic purpose,” she said, before recommending that five days be added to the end of the school year instead. Hart’s position was supported by all of the principals present for the meeting and ultimately accepted by the board.
Teachers worked as planned on Tuesday, and will return to open the district’s schools on Wednesday, Aug. 10. Students will have their first day of class the following day, Aug. 11.