The YS Schools Facilities Committee held its second meeting on Thursday, May 5, and reported on information-gathering work that had been meted out to its members at its first meeting in April.
In the month between meetings, the committee’s contingent of building users, headed by board liaison Dorothée Bouquet, collected results from a questionnaire on facilities conditions that was disseminated amongst district staff. At the same time, the committee’s building experts, led by board liaison Judith Hempfling, assessed several areas of building systems.
Bouquet, who worked with committee members and educators Kineta Sanford and Brian Mayer, reported that an overwhelming majority of district staff — nearly 100% — participated in filling out the questionnaire.
“I’m just giving an overview here, but I want the users to know that I’ve read all of [the questionnaires] and that they’re being shared with the whole group,” Bouquet said.
Among the issues identified by building users, the largest concerns discussed at the meeting were heating, ventilation and air conditioning, or HVAC, systems and air quality; bathrooms; and safety and security.
According to users, the heating and cooling at Mills Lawn, McKinney Middle and YS High schools are unreliable, with students often wearing coats indoors in winter and feeling too warm in spring and summer. The HVAC system, many said, is often loud enough to be disruptive or make it difficult to hear important announcements. Some teachers bring in other heating and cooling devices at their own expense.
An added concern is that the HVAC systems seem to be contributing to poor air quality in the buildings. Several members of staff reported that allergies flared up when returning to school buildings after the summer break.
Inadequate access to bathrooms, particularly in the older section of Mills Lawn and in the YS High School “tower,” was reported for both staff and students. The small number of bathrooms, their various conditions and where they’re located, as well as bad smells and noise, were all cited as issues. Mayer added that students at the middle and high schools often don’t use the school bathrooms at all.
“I’ve gotten anecdotal evidence from many, many students who are avoiding using the restrooms for a number of reasons, and the conditions are top among those,” he said.
Staff also reported that they don’t think school buildings are adequately outfitted for safety in instances of severe weather. At McKinney Middle and YS High schools, it was reported that the current tornado shelter, which is in a basement/boiler room, is not large enough for all students and staff, and often floods.
Additionally, many staff stated that they do not feel there is adequate security in place in the event that someone aims to enter the building with the intent to harm. Some questionnaires offered simple solutions to help ease security concerns, including outfitting staff with walkie-talkies and equipping windows with blinds. The main suggestion, however, was to build a security vestibule at the entrances of each building so that those entering buildings can be more effectively screened.
Bouquet added that, though staff reported the greenspace on school properties as a positive, the ease with which the general public can enter the outdoor space is a concern. Particularly of note is people accessing the playgrounds during school hours and leaving behind animal feces, broken glass and trash.
“This cannot come across as us valuing their work if they have to put all that work into handling community misuse of school grounds,” she said.
These concerns, as well as others that were outlined in questionnaires, Bouquet said, mean low morale for school staff.
“This is not a guilt trip,” she added. “This is a discussion of why it is important to find and identify the issues here so that we can find a solution that works for our staff.”
Following Bouquet’s report, the committee’s building experts spoke about their findings in assessing some of the aspects of the facilities; further reports will be made in later meetings.
Many of the assessments’ findings supported staff experiences, and experts expressed optimism that there are avenues to address the largest problems.
Electrical engineer Mike Slaughter reported on an assessment of the electrical systems at the schools. Slaughter said it appeared as though the electrical systems are “current and safe and can be added to,” and that staff needs for more outlets, charging stations and “more power” can be addressed.
“The panels are OK and can be upgraded. … From just an over-the-top electrical look, I think we’re fine,” he said.
Architect Mike Ruetschle added that a second assessment of the electrical systems by an electrician would be needed, with which Slaughter agreed.
Former educator Scott Fife assessed IT needs at the schools with Bill Griffith of MVECA, from which many Miami Valley schools, including Yellow Springs, receive their internet service and IT support. Fife lauded MVECA, which is located near the middle and high schools on Dayton Street, as a resource, and reported that current internet hardware appears to be functioning well. Issues with internet connectivity, he said, are due in part to the age of the district facilities, most of which were built before the need to consider how a building’s infrastructure might affect internet access.
“It’s a security issue, it’s an electrical supply issue and it’s a ventilation issue,” he said.
Slaughter advised that “dead spots” in wireless connectivity could be addressed with signal boosting devices, but recommended that classrooms be hardwired for internet connection for teachers.
Civil engineer Jerry Papania took a look at the HVAC system at McKinney Middle and YS High schools. The current system equipment, he said, is “likely adequate” to handle current classroom heating and cooling loads, with the understanding that some areas of the facility are not currently air-conditioned.
However, Papania added, the HVAC control system, which regulates heating and cooling, is “very problematic” and will most likely need to be replaced. He echoed user reports that indoor air quality is not ideal, particularly in light of the pandemic, and that air filtration also needs to be addressed. Papania reported similar findings at Mills Lawn.
Papania also confirmed user reports on bathrooms, stating that the ground floor bathrooms at the high school are “adequate,” but that bathrooms in the high school’s tower “definitely need to be addressed.” He added that the interior walls in the tower could be demolished and reconfigured with relative ease and that the wall of the cafeteria near the parking lot could be extended to create more usable space.
“There’s some flexibility there,” he said.
Building inspector David Roche examined the exterior of the middle and high school buildings and their roofs. Stipulating that a more thorough inspection would be needed, Roche said that his first impression was that the structures appeared to be in “relatively good condition.” He added, however, that the appearance of the buildings is “unappealing” and could be improved.
“To think that you actually have to go to school there or work there for a day, I think, starts as misery,” he said.
Safety issues identified by Roche included the need for confirming that a wall of the tower portion of the high school is properly bolted to the ground floor, renovating or replacing a stairwell and replacing some windows.
Acknowledging that many areas of the roofs have leaks, Roche said that, upon first look, it appears as though most roofing is repairable, but that the roof to the middle/high school gym must be replaced.
Roche said that the modular unit middle school, commonly known as the “shoebox” — which has repeatedly been identified as a problem area by users who cite air quality, mold and noise — is in “decent” condition, with the roof still under warranty, adding that some issues, like “bouncy” floors and moisture, could be addressed at relatively low cost.
Hempfling suggested that the “shoebox” buildings could be used for storage, as building users have identified storage space as a need.
“It seems like they could have some important usefulness,” she said.
Superintendent Terri Holden expressed a hope that the committee would listen to the recommendations of a maintenance plan advisor, which the district is looking to hire, with regard to the “shoebox.”
“We all know there are issues,” she said.
The district has received three bids from potential maintenance plan advisor candidates following a request for proposals last month. The committee developed a timeline for meeting with the candidates; interviews will begin the week of May 23.
The May 5 Facilities Committee meeting is available to be viewed in full online at youtu.be/ngZsg3-z1f0.