Stuck in the middle
Student-safety issue more than hot air as EMS begins new year
Beating the heat at Eudora Middle School is like cooling a car hood with an ice cube on a hot summer day.
Open entrance and exit doors and large fans in the hallways to circulate air; students carrying water bottles and ice-filled water coolers stationed in the halls are common sights at the school.
The 50-year-old school building is the only district school without air conditioning, and finding a solution to the situation isn't easy, but it's a concern the district plans to address.
"It would be welcome," Principal Dale Sample said of having air conditioning installed. "I wouldn't be against it."
Teachers and students have learned to cope with the heat over the years, although the dog days of summer sometimes take a bite out of learning.
"I doubt there is much learning going on after 1 p.m." Sample said. "Sometimes, it's trying to make the most of an unbearable situation."
On scorching days, classrooms on the north side of the building reach temperatures above 100 degrees in the afternoon sun, and the cafeteria is almost as hot as the ovens lunch ladies use to prepare food.
With the rise of technology in schools, classrooms, such as the middle school's computer lab, have the shades drawn and windows open to battle the humidity, but it's still not a favorable environment for technology.
A copier broke down last year at the school because of heat-related conditions, said Dave Winans, superintendent of the Eudora school district.
The heat also causes circuit breakers to trip in the afternoons a combination of the heat and the fans constantly running in the building, Sample said.
Past district policy has been not to allow students to leave school early on hot days, Sample said.
If middle school students were let out early, it creates the problem of the school having to contact families about the shortened school day.
"We could get the buses there to pick them up, but some students would be delivered to empty homes," Winans said.
The school has coped with the afternoon heat by scheduling breaks. Students are taken to the city park across the street, where the school's booster club provides them with Popsicles or pop.
"The teachers and students have been great in dealing with it," Sample said.
Eudora schools fortunately haven't had the violence that many school districts in the country have faced in the past few years.
For the most part, the Eudora schools are safe, authorities said.
However, it's a Catch-22 for the middle school. Close the entrance and exit doors to provide a secure environment, or open them to deal with the heat.
"Either way is uncomfortable, the (latter) is unlivable," Winans said.
Eudora police regularly patrol around Eudora schools and occasionally visit inside, Chief Bill Long said.
Faculty and staff at the middle school always keep a watchful eye for people who don't belong on school property.
"If this was the Bronx we wouldn't have any choice. You'd have to close the doors, but Eudora is a pretty safe community and we have that luxury" Sample said.
The maintenance staff has done a good job of maintaining the building, which passes all safety inspections. However, the electrical system would have to be replaced if any additions were made to the building and the plumbing is in the same condition, Sample said
During basketball season, the boy's restrooms usually flood because the plumbing can't handle the amount of use, according to Sample.
The week before school started, maintenance workers were repairing drains in the school's kitchen.
"It's not because the pipes were clogged, they're just old," Sample said.
Looking for solutions
A study was conducted in 1994 on the possibility of installing air conditioning at the middle school, but the results revealed it would be a major project that included remodeling such as replacing windows and doors with energy efficient ones and installing a new electrical system. The project was estimated at $1.97 million. A price tag that would reportedly double in today's construction environment.
"Plumbing and electrical is 50 years old and it's getting to were it's obsolete; some parts aren't being manufactured anymore." Sample said.
There could be several options to rectify the situation at the middle school, but it's a matter of what solution is best for the community and the entire district, Winans said.
Remodeling the current building, building a new middle school next to the high school, or building a new high school and move the middle school into the high school building are a few options the board of education may consider.
A new feasibility study on district facilities is in the works, which will give school board a complete picture of current conditions. Some of those finding, combined with other educational needs, will most likely go before voters in a not-so-distant bond issue.
"To really be affective, we have to hear from the community," Winans said. "The community is growing and will continue to grow. What direction the school district takes depends on what the community wants."
Will Eudora residents want neighborhood schools, or do they want theme-schools, such as a specialized magnet school? Those questions would affect how the school officials looks at facilities.
"It's a good situation to be in," Winans said of the growth.
Until a more permanent solution is found, a temporary solution could be to place the middle school on a heat-related class schedule during the blistering days of the school year.
"It's inevitable that something will have to be done with the building," Sample said.