Schools working overtime to keep ahead of Old Man Winter
By Denise Crosby firstname.lastname@example.org January 26, 2014 3:54PM
Crossing guard Laura Duguid (left) warns students to "take baby steps" as they cross slippery Brookdale Road in front of Hill Middle School in Indian Prairie School District 204 on Jan. 8, 2014. | Jon Cunningham/For Sun-Times Media ORG XMIT: email@example.com
Updated: February 28, 2014 6:17AM
The father was not complaining. He just wanted to know if I’d received similar concerns.
His son, he told me, a student at West Aurora High School, did not want to go to school recently because “some of the classrooms were blowing cool air instead of heat.”
The teen, he added, struggled with allergies that often made him more vulnerable to changes in extreme conditions.
And this weather certainly fits that description.
When I contacted the school district, Public Relations Coordinator Mike Chapin said he was not aware of any issues with frigid classrooms, but assured me the district monitored temperatures daily through the use of computer software. That, in turn, allows officials to immediately identify any areas with heating concerns.
This month, he added, there were several rooms where motors needed to be changed, or steam trap issues had to be corrected.
Staying ahead of this winter’s brutal arctic conditions has placed a heavy burden on school districts. So much so that Oswego Superintendent Matthew Wendt made it a point of praising employees at a recent board meeting for their work in keeping everything from buses to furnaces in working order.
Other districts agree that it’s imperative to put out the fires before they get too big.
“As problems come up,” noted Marty Feltes, East Aurora’s director of buildings and grounds, “we just have to knock ’em down.”
Some of those issues can be blamed on fluctuations in temperatures that cause weak spots to show up, especially in many of the older buildings that make up the East Aurora district.
Feltes mentioned steam leaks in some of the boilers as a concern. But so far, knock on wood, there’s been only one pipe burst.
“And it was in the entryway” of the school, he said, “so we were able to clean it up right away.”
In rural Kaneland, keeping pipes from freezing is not as big a problem because many of the buildings are newer. But “the biggest challenge,” said Superintendent Jeff Schuler, is dealing with “the wear and tear” on this rural school district’s large fleet of buses.
“It’s taken a Herculean effort” on the part of maintenance, mechanics and support staff, he said, who often “were here around the clock” to make sure those 70-plus buses were getting kids to and from school on time — or as close to that mark as possible.
Even then, “on any given day,” Schuler said, “we will have one or two buses that go down.”
Once the big yellow vehicles are on the road does not guarantee on-time delivery. Buses still encounter delays due to bad road conditions, and that includes drivers running across other accidents caused by ice and snow.
More parents are providing their own transportation to school, Schuler said. And certainly there is more car-pooling going on, even to bus stops so kids won’t have to stand in the bitter cold for long.
School officials say the weather has made it more difficult for most departments. That includes teachers who have to contend with more delays, more clothing, more runny noses — and fewer outdoor recesses.
Just last week, Schuler — visiting an elementary school classroom — was pleasantly surprised by the upbeat tempo teachers were trying to maintain.
Still, he admitted, the weather is taking its toll on humans as well as pipes and buses.
“People,” Schuler said, “are getting tired of winter.”
Which is why, even with a week left in January, Feltes told me he’s already started the spring countdown.
“It’s been insane,” he said.