Schools, others gear up for subzero highs
By Suzanne Baker email@example.com January 4, 2014 7:17PM
School buses throughout the Fox Valley won't be running Monday because districts will be closed due to the bitterly cold temperatures being predicted. | Sun-Times Media
The following Kane County communities have identified locations where the public can go to get warm during this period of extreme cold, according to the county Office of Emergency Management:
Aurora — The city has opened up a 24-hour warming center at the Aurora Transportation Center, 233 N. Broadway. It will be open until noon Thursday.
Salvation Army, 437 E. Galena Blvd., Monday-Friday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Prisco Community Center, 150 W. Illinois Ave; Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 8:30 p.m., Saturday 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Aurora Public Library — Main Branch, 1 E. Benton St.; Eola Road Branch, 555 S. Eola Road, and West Branch; 233 S. Constitution Drive, Monday to Thursday 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 1 to 5 p.m.
Batavia — City Hall, 100 N. Island (check in at police desk).
Geneva — City Hall, 22 S. First St. Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Public Works, 1800 South St., Monday-Friday 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Fire Department; 200 East Side Drive, 24/7; Police Department, 20 Police Plaza, 24/7.
Maple Park — Fire Station, 305 S. County Line Road, Monday-Friday 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
North Aurora — Village Hall, 25 E. State St., 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Police Department, 200 S. Lincolnway, 4 to 10 p.m..
St. Charles — City Hall, 2 E. Main St. 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Lazarus House, 214 Walnut St. (picture ID required).
Sugar Grove — Fire Station, 25 S. Municipal Drive, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Updated: February 6, 2014 6:44AM
Kids, and perhaps a few parents, might be hoping winter break will be extended an extra day so they don’t have to brave the sub-zero temperatures Monday morning on their way to school.
The National Weather Service is projecting high temperatures in the area to not exceed 14 below zero during the daytime Monday with nighttime temperatures plunging to minus 18.
School officials urge students, parents and staff to be aware of their district’s emergency closing procedures, whether it is a phone call, text message or visiting the district website.
Emergency closing information for area schools and colleges also can be found at emergencyclosingcenter.com.
The first feat is getting the bus fleet on the road, and transportation companies like Durham School Services are up to that challenge, according to Molly Hart, manager of public relations and media for National Express Corp, supporting Durham School Services, Stock Transportation and Petermann. Durham provides transportation services to School District 300.
“As a national student transportation provider, we operate in many challenging climates. Whether it is the Northeast or the Midwest, when faced with snow and low temperatures certain procedures are followed to ensure the safe operation of our fleet. These include starting the buses two hours before departure and running them for short intervals to ensure they are operating properly. Additives and blended fuel are also used for cold weather conditions and early route buses are kept inside where possible,” Hart said.
If school is in session on Monday, kids who walk to school or must wait outdoors for a bus should dress appropriately.
Frostbite can occur on exposed skin in just 10 minutes at a temperature of minus 15 with a 20 mph wind.
The same applies to adults who must be outside for more than a few minutes at a time, even if it is just walking from a parking lot to a job.
Local school districts are clearing snow from driveways and sidewalks, watching school buildings’ water pipes, furnaces and boilers and monitoring the low temperatures, which can impair bus function and make it dangerous for children to walk to school.
West Aurora spokesman Mike Chapin said the district is aware of the predicted weather conditions and officials are watching a combination of the temperature and wind chill factor.
“About half our kids walk to school, so we’ll be interested in the wind chill and what that may be,” Chapin said. “If the buses can’t work, that’s a deal breaker.”
He said the district hoped to make a call by Sunday if school will be canceled Monday.
“We try to make the call not real late,” Chapin said.
Parents and school staff will receive a phone call and email if school is canceled, as well as a text message, if they are signed up for alerts. Emergency closing information also will be posted online at sd129.org.
At East Aurora, Superintendent Jerome Roberts will be consulting with Marty Feltes, the district’s director of buildings and grounds, and other administrators as he makes the call about whether or not to close schools.
If East Aurora schools are closed, an announcement will be made by 6 a.m. Monday. Parents will receive a phone message in English and Spanish and the information will be posted on the district’s website, d131.org, and Facebook and Twitter pages.
Students in Oswego schools aren’t due back in school on Monday, due to a Teacher Institute Day, but if the cold weather snowballs into Tuesday, administrators will be prepared.
To assess if roads throughout the district are safe, Oswego administrators will travel the streets themselves, as well as consult with law enforcement agencies, county highway departments and local municipalities.
The district will make a decision if there is a closure on Tuesday by 6 a.m. and parents will receive a phone call and email. School closing information also will be posted on the district’s website, oswego308.org.
In Indian Prairie School District 204, information on a school closing is posted first on the district’s website at www.ipsd.org. By 6 a.m., any closing information is announced via Twitter, a Connect-ED phone call to parents/guardians, local television and radio stations, the Emergency Closing Center’s website and a recorded message on the district’s information line at 630-375-3015.
When the sub-zero temperatures hit on Sunday, Aurora will be ready.
They city has opened up a 24-hour warming center at the Aurora Transportation Center, 233 N. Broadway, to provide shelter to residents during the forecasted cold spell.
It’s a move that City of Aurora Director of Communications Clayton Muhammed said was imperative to make.
“We knew these would be critical times, and that an addition (to the traditional warming centers) needed to be made,” he said Saturday afternoon.
Warming centers are available at many locations throughout the city, but only during business hours. Muhammad said the city recognized the need for additional overnight shelter.
When libraries and community centers close, residents need a warm, central location to take cover in.
“We want to know everyone in Aurora has a place to go if they need it,” Muhammad said.
Though the need has not yet been assessed, Muhammad said he anticipates those without homes or adequate heat will seek shelter at the transportation center as temperatures plummet to extreme lows this week.
“We’re not certain who will come, but we want to have it available to the community as a whole,” Muhammad said.
The center will be open around the clock until noon on Thursday.
Muhammad said there will be a police presence at the center, which has restrooms and vending machines. Water will also be provided.
The city will be working with standard warming shelters as they close each evening to make sure residents using those facilities get safely to the 24-hour warming center.
“We’re taking it day by day,” Muhammad said of the pilot program.
At Hesed House in Aurora, Executive Director Michael Cobb is also bracing for large numbers as the cold weather hits.
Last week, the homeless shelter served as a warming center for residents during the day. Cobb said he saw an increase in the number of residents seeking shelter during these times. Hesed House averaged about 98 people during the day last week, compared to the normal 70 to 75.
He anticipates overnight numbers will reach the upper 180s this week, as temperatures fall even further.
The shelters capacity is about 180.
Anticipating the rise in numbers, Cobb said that Hesed House staff has been working with the city to help prepare an emergency weather plan.
“We will assist where we can to work with those families and individuals who are in dire need for an evening or two,” Cobb said.
For Muhammad, the 24-hour warming center means one thing: that everyone will have a warm place to go.
“Our goal at this point is to have a location that’s open so individuals can come and stay warm,” he said. “We will assess certain needs as we go, and make adjustments accordingly ... we will do what Aurora always does and pull together.”
Bouts of extreme cold can affect municipal infrastructures.
As sub-zero temperatures sweep into the Aurora area, city officials anticipate some water mains may break because of the cold.
The city has recorded 22 water main breaks since the Thanksgiving weekend, Muhammad said. Air and water temperature are main factors in why water mains break with greater frequency in the winter months, he said.
“We anticipate some additional activity this weekend related to the extreme temperatures therefore we will have additional employees standing by through Monday morning,” Muhammad said. “Unfortunately there are no precautionary measures that can prevent water main breaks.”
On average, water main breaks in Aurora cause a four- to six-hour service interruption. Main breaks can also do damage to roadways, causing traffic disruptions due to lane and street closures as repairs are made, Muhammad said.
As the city grapples with the possibility of water main breaks, Muhammad said frozen pipes may present an even larger problem for Aurora homeowners.
“Residents should make every effort to insulate waterlines that are at or near outside walls, basement windows, crawl spaces and utility rooms that are not heated,” he said.
Frigid temperatures can lead to home fires if people aren’t careful. The Kane County Office of Emergency Management offers several tips for staying safe and warm.
People who use a space heater are urged to place it on a level, hard surface and keep anything flammable at least 3 feet away. Fireplaces should have a glass or metal fire screen large enough to catch sparks and rolling logs.
Before the room or going to bed, space heaters should be turned off and fireplace embers should be extinguished.
To protect pipes from freezing, allow running water at a trickle and open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to allow warmer air to circulate around the plumbing.
Should a generator be necessary, never operate a generator inside the home, including in the basement or garage.
Also, don’t hook a generator up to the home’s wiring. The safest thing to do is to connect the equipment you want to power directly to the outlets on the generator.
Cats and dogs should be kept inside during cold weather, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Like people, cats and dogs are susceptible to frostbite and hypothermia and should be kept inside.
Water and food bowls should be kept in a place where they will not freeze.
Keep an eye out for animal stowaways, particularly if a vehicle is left outdoors. A warm vehicle engine can be an appealing heat source for outdoor and feral cats, but it’s deadly. Check underneath the car, bang on the hood, and honk the horn before starting the engine to encourage feline hitchhikers to abandon their roost under the hood.
People also should avoid traveling with pets in extreme cold.
A car can rapidly cool down in cold weather; it becomes like a refrigerator, and can rapidly chill your pet.
Kalyn Belsha, Stephanie Lulay and Erika Wurst contributed to this story.