Cape schools get maintenance attention

Saturday, March 8, 2003

The picture was disturbing at best, but thankfully the solution was already in the works -- and without a need for new taxes. First, the picture:

Kindergarten students sat on one side of a classroom, calmly going about their lessons on a sunny morning. On the other side of the room was a plastic sheet draped where an acoustic ceiling panel should be, installed to catch water on more inclement days.

It illustrates the situation facing the Cape Girardeau School District. Many of the buildings are aging, and with the years come typical problems with facilities.

In the case of Alma Schrader Elementary School, it's a leaky roof. District facilities director J.B. McClard compares walking on that roof and the one at Jefferson Elementary School to "walking on a sponge." Certainly he would know, because he and his crews are on those roofs patching leaks as often as possible.

Also at Jefferson, water-damaged ceiling tiles have been removed, walls have been stained and paint peeled by rainfall and melted snow.

Franklin Elementary School is the oldest building in use in the district. It was constructed in 1926, and the heating and cooling system currently in use was installed in 1973. The gas-fired boiler, which supplies the school's heat, isn't energy-efficient, and it leaks. (At least the roof is OK at Franklin.)

And at Central Junior High School, there are six lunch periods in the undersized cafeteria, which must accommodate the 672 seventh- and eighth-graders who have to eat there every day.

The district has been focused in recent years on building new schools to replace old buildings with even bigger problems.

But the district has a solution.

A committee of three district employees and two school board members, plus outside consultants, completed a yearlong study of the district's 10 buildings. It includes everything about those schools: interiors, exteriors, heating and cooling systems, electrical systems and control systems.

And chief financial officer Rob Huff said there is a plan in place that will allow the district to catch up on the problems by allocating $800,000 a year for five years from general revenue. The projects will begin this summer with roof repair.

Perhaps the best thing about the plan is that school officials aren't asking for higher taxes from taxpayers, who already have stepped up to pay for state-of-the-art new buildings.

Little by little, the district plans to address its ongoing maintenance needs in a way that should eliminate the need for trash bags and buckets on rainy days.

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