Another cold snap and apparently another string of cold classrooms.
Last week, many classes at Columbia High School -- and other schools -- saw frigid temperatures when the cold outside dropped to single digits on several days.
The snow helped a bit by closing schools last Thursday and Friday, although the Friday closing was originally a delayed opening and later switched to a closure for no specific reasons.
Other days many students, and parents, reported a chill in the classes at CHS, Maplewood Middle School and other locations, while the district noted that some entire classes had to be relocated.
The freeze began on the first day back from holiday break, Tuesday, Jan. 2, when the district issued this note:
Dear SOMSD Families,
With the current bitterly cold temperatures, heating issues have arisen in schools across the district, and some classrooms are uncomfortably cold. Our property services department has been working diligently to resolve issues as they arise.
Administrators are traveling the buildings throughout the day to identify concerns and make alternate arrangements when necessary. Some classes have been relocated to other locations in the same building, until appropriate temperatures are restored in their usual classrooms.
We will keep the boilers operating at daytime temperatures overnight to even out the temperatures in our classrooms in preparation for school tomorrow. Please remind your children to prepare for the weather, and the variable temperatures in the buildings, by dressing in layers.
We asked South Orange Maplewood School District Spokeswoman Suzanne Turner how many classes had to be relocated, but she said no tally had been kept.
On Wednesday, Jan. 3, this note was sent:
Dear SOMSD Families,
The temperatures in most of our buildings have evened out at 68 degrees today. The coldest temperatures our area has experienced in years are taxing older systems. The property services department is diligently resolving issues as they arise.
Administrators continue to closely monitor the environment, identify concerns and make alternate arrangements when necessary.
The weather is forecast to remain quite cold through the weekend, with near-record-low temperatures. Please continue to remind your children to dress warmly and in layers.'
But this is not a new phenomenon. Two years ago, almost to the date, cold classrooms were a problem and the same boiler excuses were given.
When asked about the post-break freeze in January 2016, District Property Services Manager William Kyle issued this statement:
We have had some problems this week, as we do every winter, with rooms throughout the District, including the High School and Maplewood Middle.
Problems occur for many reasons but some of the more common involve valves or blower motors. Many of the problems are easily resolved by adjusting a valve or pump motor.
Other problems are sometimes more complicated. As I write this most of the problems that were present on Monday, have been resolved. The custodians and staff alert the maintenance department when there is a problem.
We assess the problem and are able to fix many items the same day. Items that require the replacement or repair of a part will likely take longer. We bring in outside technicians throughout the week as needed and their experience and training provide a great deal of assistance to repairing the faulty equipment as quickly as possible.
One wonders why, if this is a known problem, staff is not in the schools a few days earlier to get the heat going and keep kids from being put in an unhealthy situation.
State law requires that heating levels be maintained between 68 and 79 degrees, stating each school must evacuate if the temperature falls below 63 degrees and that the state Department of Health and Senior Services be notified of such an evacuation.
Turner responded this week to the current situation stating, in part:
The coldest temperatures our area has experienced in years taxed older systems and older buildings in SOMSD and many surrounding school districts.
Our heating issues were mainly due to older systems that failed (i.e. blower motor that stopped working) and old sections of buildings that are not insulated to today’s standards (i.e. single pane glass skylights which allow cold to radiate in). The district is in the process of creating a capital improvement plan to address these and other facility needs.
Interesting that both Turner this year and Kyle in 2016 cited a blower motor problem. If that was a problem two years ago, why was it not fixed then?
We know that many of our schools are very old and have older equipment. But something like heating schools should be basic and simple to address. Asked for details of the capital improvement plan being created, Turner and other district officials did not respond with more specifics.
The district has shown our enrollment is increasing and maintenance is a major issue. So it would seem heating schools, especially if much of the problem is based on known causes, would be a top priority.
And coming off a year that saw one of the biggest school budget tax increases in years, such rate hikes would be easier to take if we at least knew that our children were not freezing.