Junior high school working on final touches to building

Monday, October 7, 2002

It may be a little unsightly in places, officials say, but Central Junior High School is fulfilling its most important obligation -- educating children.

The 50-year-old building at 205 Caruthers Ave. in Cape Girardeau is beginning to show its age -- peeling paint, crumbling ceiling tiles and moisture-damaged flooring.

The building served as Central High School until this year, when construction of a new high school on Silver Springs Road was completed.

While the school received a multimillion-dollar renovation over the summer that included the installation of a new heating and cooling system and a new communications system, time and financial constraints didn't allow for the completion of basic maintenance and custodial tasks before the start of school.

The renovations themselves created a few eyesores. Large pieces of cardboard are nailed to walls to cover holes left by recently removed window air-conditioning units. Electrical extension cords dangle from the ceiling in hallways and classrooms. Exposed piping and cables run throughout the building.

Seventh-graders Lindsey Frayser, Jessica Holloway and Casey Popp said they've noticed the condition of the building.

Popp said extension cords run all over the place in her science class, and all of the girls agreed the building's basement lacked appeal.

"The basement looks really trashy and beat-up," said Popp. "It feels like you're walking through the ghetto down there."

However, the three said they don't think the condition of the building detracts from their education.

Keeping two lists

The problems at the junior high are so numerous that administrators have asked teachers to keep logs of classroom maintenance requests until the end of the semester, when the school board will review the logs and set priorities for the requests.

Teachers have divided their requests into two lists -- things that need to be done now and things that can wait until next summer.

Looking around her classroom, family and consumer sciences teacher Pat Renard can pick out several things she'd like to see improved.

Molding along the wall is falling down, ceiling tiles need to be replaced and some areas need to be painted. There's no outlet near the spot where her television is mounted to the wall, so extension cords are stretched along the ceiling and floor.

Those are all things that Renard has placed on her "can wait" list.

"It isn't affecting our teaching, and it isn't affecting students' learning," Renard said.

But there are a few things Renard and her fellow teachers feel can't wait. During the last Cape Girardeau School Board meeting, Renard, who serves as president of Community Teachers Association, and Brenda Woemmel, president of the local chapter of the National Education Association, expressed concern over the building's electrical wiring problems, including overloaded circuits and a lack of outlets in classrooms.

Control Technology and Solutions, the Cape Girardeau company responsible for the recent renovation, did rewire part of the building to accommodate the new heating and air-conditioning system and new lighting.

But that didn't solve problems like overloaded circuits in the teachers' workroom, where posted signs advise which appliances and machines can't be operated at the same time without tripping a circuit breaker.

Junior high principal Lee Gattis said the school is currently considering bids on electrical work in the teachers' workroom and other areas where wiring has caused problems.

"Keep in mind this building was used as the high school last year, and we've already made several million dollars' worth of improvements," Gattis said. "We've gotten the necessities done, and we're working on the other stuff."

Gattis commended the teachers, who have spent countless hours making their classrooms more welcoming for the 656 seventh- and eighth-grade students enrolled at the junior high.

No complaints from parents

Despite the appearance of the building, Gattis said he hasn't heard any complaints from parents, who had an opportunity to check out the building during the junior high's back-to-school night in September.

Karen Horrell of Cape Girardeau said she attended the back-to-school night and didn't notice any problems with her seventh-grade daughter's classrooms.

"If there was something there, I didn't see it. I know my daughter and her friends haven't said anything," Horrell said. "And I don't think there's anything unsafe about the building, or they wouldn't let kids be there."

Cape Girardeau resident Annabel Gilhaus, whose two grandsons attend the junior high, said she too didn't notice anything unusual about the condition of the building when she last visited there.

"I wasn't really looking for any problems, but then nothing stood out to me either," Gilhaus said.

According to Gattis, many of the problem situations teachers faced at the beginning of the year have already been fixed or at least improved. Others will take some time, he said.

"We're working at it, but we've got a lot to do," Gattis said. "Rome wasn't built in a day."

cchitwood@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 128

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