CASE FOR CONSTRUCTION: Water and heating problems top trouble list at Powers


By Jason Hawk - jhawk@civitasmedia.com



Photos by Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times The boiler room at Powers Elementary School has seen its share of flooding, including one occasion where water rose about a foot and a half high.


Principal Debbie Waller shows where water spots are visible on hallway ceilings.


Modular classrooms behind Powers aren’t ideal for learning, especially during cold Ohio winters.


Brown water stains aren’t hard to spot on the carpet and ceiling tiles.

“This is the kind of day we can expect our pods to flood,” Powers Elementary School principal Debbie Waller said Monday, walking toward the back of her building.

Once billed as “the classrooms of the future,” the pods are a 1960s addition to the rear of the Washington Street school. Teachers there are used to storms sending runoff coursing through an unheated breezeway that links it to the rest of the building, boiling up from drains in the floor, or seeping through the roof.

The building doesn’t have gutters. Rain falls off the roof in waterfall-like sheets, coursing back toward the foundation.

“There will be mulch and leaves and sticks in here soon enough,” Waller said, pointing to oft-soaked carpets that have to be cleaned and disinfected after downpours.

Students have learned to step over and around the mess but teachers say fans and clean-up efforts are distracting during lessons.

Water is also a problem on the front side the building, where it’s risen the height of three cinder blocks in the boiler room — once there was so much the pressure blew a metal door outward.

Long-term water issues are among the reasons educators are asking to tear down Powers and build a new school on South Lake Street where Harris Elementary now stands.

Issue 21 calls to extend the bond issue used to construct Amherst Junior High out another 12 years, keeping monthly tax bills at their present rate instead of dropping.

Voters will get to decide Nov. 8 whether the plan moves forward.

A yes vote would mean Amherst can cash in on a $14 million offer from the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission to help with costs.

District superintendent Steven Sayers said the biggest question in voters’ minds is: Why build anew when you could simply repair the schools we have?

“It’s not that we can’t fix things when they break,” he said. “I know that’s how some taxpayers feel. But over time, repairs will cost them more.”

“It seems that if we have an opportunity where the state is willing to give us $14 million to address this in a more proactive manner, it’s going to allow us to have a better situation to teach.”

Sarah Kucbel, a former Keystone elementary teacher with two children at Powers and two younger ones at home, is leading the district’s bond issue campaign this fall.

She said aging learning environments like Powers need replaced, pointing first to the building’s cranky heating and cooling systems. Kucbel said it’s hard to determine whether her children should wear long sleeves or short, pants, or coats to school because even if it’s cold out the building can be hot inside, or vice versa.

Waller said spring is the hardest time of year because once the boiler is shut down for the season, temperatures inside Powers can swing wildly from day to day.

Those are far from the only physical problems the building faces.

Rooms at the front of Powers have floor air conditioning units that pump out the windows. They are costly and prone to break-downs. So far this year, four have gone out.

There are also cracks in some windows. Many don’t open and replacement parts are no longer made.

The pods — named such because classrooms ring a central hub — each have their own furnace and cooling units that are old, inefficient, and constantly breaking down, Waller said.

Throughout the school, wires are strung through the hallways. Some rooms have had electric conduits run across ceilings and walls but teachers say they still have to be careful not to blow fuses.

Plumbing is also an issue. There are only three sets of bathrooms for 700 students, which means each urinal or toilet is shared by 20.

That math makes for long waiting lines in the hallways. Teachers often spend 20-minute breaks rotating their young learners through the restrooms.

The Powers gym doubles as a cafeteria, so physical education classes can’t be held for a large chunk in the middle of the day. Assemblies often have to be held across the street at Steele High School.

An old stage, once used for plays and assemblies, has also been converted for storage and is used as a copy room.

Outside, there are modular units. And on the street, parking is a nightmare that ties up traffic an hour each day.

“There’s so much. It’s an endless list,” Waller said. “You think about dealing with a 60-year-old house and those are the problems we have, but for 700 kids.”

By themselves, the problems are inconveniences, said Sayers. Together, they make teaching a series of migraine headaches.

He argues that new construction will actually cut into the district’s bills considerably, creating as much as $500,000 per year in savings.

That’s what Amherst saw when Shupe Elementary School was shut down and grades were consolidated into five buildings rather than six.

That’s the long-term plan with Powers as well. Classes would be consolidated down into four buildings, with Powers and Harris being merged under a single, larger roof and other grades shifted between the remaining schools.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

Photos by Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times The boiler room at Powers Elementary School has seen its share of flooding, including one occasion where water rose about a foot and a half high.

http://aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/43/2016/09/web1_DSC_5063.jpg

Photos by Jason Hawk | Amherst News-Times The boiler room at Powers Elementary School has seen its share of flooding, including one occasion where water rose about a foot and a half high.

Principal Debbie Waller shows where water spots are visible on hallway ceilings.
http://aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/43/2016/09/web1_DSC_5066.jpgPrincipal Debbie Waller shows where water spots are visible on hallway ceilings.

Modular classrooms behind Powers aren’t ideal for learning, especially during cold Ohio winters.
http://aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/43/2016/09/web1_DSC_5071.jpgModular classrooms behind Powers aren’t ideal for learning, especially during cold Ohio winters.

By Jason Hawk

jhawk@civitasmedia.com