CHARLES TOWN – The classrooms were thoroughly spiffed and cleaned. New carpets were put down. Parking lots were repainted. And three heating and air conditioning units were replaced.
Those were among the summer facilities to-do list for the 17 schools in Jefferson County. Out of 139 large and small maintenance requests submitted, at least 110 of those were completed before school reopened for classes on Monday, according to Brandon Caton, the school system’s new maintenance and facilities coordinator.
“The kids never know when they get back, but all summer long maintenance is going through every single one of the buildings,” said Hans Fogle, spokesman for the county’s school system.
Among the projects finished before schools reopened was a new septic field installation at South Jefferson Elementary School in Summit Point. Three schools received new heating and air conditioning units. A section of the roof on Ranson Elementary School was replaced. Tile flooring was set down in the kitchen at Page Jackson Elementary near Charles Town. A new athletic turf field was replaced at Washington High School in Charles Town. Thirteen portable classroom trailers throughout the school system were sold off and hauled away.
Joyce White, interim deputy superintendent of operations, said noisy maintenance work—such as replacing roofs, heating and air conditioning units, and carpet and tile projects that require heavy demolition work — are scheduled for the summer months when students are away. “Anything that would disrupt learning needs to be done over the summer,” White said. “So it’s a narrow window.”
Despite the efforts, some work remained unfinished before the start of the school year.
At Ranson Elementary School, first-graders arrived to four warm classrooms caused by a broken air conditioning unit. It was the same system that failed last spring but was never fixed over the summer break.
“Unfortunately the parts to fix that unit are due any day now,” Principal Debra Corbett wrote in a letter she sent to parents with children whose classrooms were affected.
In the meantime, as they did last spring, maintenance workers installed window air conditioners and positioned electric fans throughout the classrooms.
“We know this has been a big concern as we deal with summer heat,” Corbett wrote. “We are closely monitoring the situation in those rooms to keep students safe. If the temperature at any time would become uncomfortable for the class, we will immediately place the class in another area of the school.”
The missing part arrived Tuesday, and the air conditioning unit should be working again by today, reported Hans Fogle, the school system’s public information officer.
Caton, the school system’s maintenance and facilities coordinator since July 10, said the delay was caused because a contractor hired to fix the broken unit was having trouble obtaining necessary parts. Caton said maintenance workers and a contractor determined that the faulty air conditioning unit could be fixed rather than replaced. “In our school system, we don’t want to just waste money on replacing things that can be repaired,” he said.
Meanwhile, at Shepherdstown Middle School, officials were waiting for a computer control panel for the school’s new fire alarm system. Installed last spring, the new system was turned off for the summer.
Fogle said the fire marshal’s office has OK’d the matter.
The school system is also addressing reports of mold that appeared over the summer in a handful of classrooms at C.W. Shipley and T.A. Lowery elementary schools. The mold found was tested and determined not to be harmful, Fogle said, noting it’s common for some mold to appear in a few classrooms after they’ve been exposed to extra humidity and left empty over the summer.
Replacement turf on the athletic field at Washington High School also wasn’t completed this week, leaving some parents with questions about the status of athletic events that use the field.
Most of the county’s school buildings are several decades old and maintaining or renovating them to today’s standards can be a costly patchwork process, White said.
Still, Fogle said repairs sometimes can’t be avoided even at older schools that might be mothballed soon. “We can’t let the current facilities deteriorate to a point that it’s unsafe or not conducive to learning just because at some point we’re hoping to be able to build a new school,” he said. “We’re putting into these buildings what we need to keep them safe learning environments.
“So if that means we’ll have to spend $40,000 on a new unit, that’s what we’ll do,” he said.
School officials did not provide a total of how much was spent to complete the summer facilities projects.
White said school officials are working on a maintenance schedule. “We want them on a replacement schedule so that we know what’s coming, and of course we always with those projects have to mind a budget,” she said.
Next summer, a new heating and air conditioning system is planned for T.A. Lowery Elementary School. The system will be replaced with help from a $1 million state grant, White said.