Hyde Park struggles with school heating woes

The Hyde Park school district is actively trying to fix a number of heating problems that disrupted classes during January’s arctic weather.

The heating woes caused the district to shut Haviland Middle School for one day, relocate several classes at the middle school and the FDR High School and repair two North Park Elementary School classrooms, according to various reports. Weather also caused school officials to shut down the middle school again on Feb. 4.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. Greer Rychcik told the Observer last week that the district is “planning major repairs to occur between February 14-17” because schools are closed for Valentine’s Day and Presidents’ Day.

Rychcik, had addressed the problems at two school board meetings, in an open letter to parents on the school district website, and in an earlier interview with the Observer.

“As you know, … we have been experiencing some heating issues in the district, primarily at FDR and Haviland…we’ve had an arctic blast come through and a couple of malfunctions of our heating systems that have been remedied and are being remedied and monitored,” Rychcik said at a Jan. 23 board meeting.

At the Jan. 9 meeting, Haviland principal Eric Shaw said seven classrooms had been relocated.

Rychcik added, “The number of rooms that were relocated at Haviland varied each day, but all classes met each day school was open.”

In her web letter to parents, Rychcik said eight classrooms at FDR High had also experienced steam heating problems, forcing educators to move students to other rooms.

And Director of Facilities and Operations Elliot Garcia said that the heating in the middle school cafeteria was also disrupted by a water pump break, but was “serviced” and up and running.

The school officials noted that the main challenge for the district is heating Haviland, where the inside temperature had dropped to 52ºF sometime in January.

Rychcik said the main issues at Haviland occurred in the “A” Wing, which houses some 7th and 8th grade classrooms, but there were other challenges with getting appropriate temperatures to the required minimum of 68 degrees during class time in the 6th grade wing.

The key problem is that the pipes at Haviland are almost 100 years old, which has caused sediment that collected to flow through water that is heated, which then clogs the system, Garcia explained.

Although boilers were recently replaced in the middle school, the old plumbing still remains, Garcia added.

Garcia told the board at its Jan. 9 meeting, “The problems that we’re experiencing now are the lines that come off those replaced lines and go into our equipment.”

Garcia said that a group of experts had been called in “to review the infrastructure that carries the hot water that provides the heat to the ‘A’ Wing and the cafeteria,” and that they were trying to find solutions that are “cost-effective and immediate.”

At the board’s Jan. 23 meeting, Garcia submitted a plan of action that he hopes will remedy the heating problems as soon as possible.

Haviland Middle School was shut down for the day Jan. 23 because of the heating problems, according to a school district announcement posted on the district’s Facebook page Jan. 22.

The announcement received a barrage of comments, both supportive and critical, from parents.

“My daughters science teacher told them dress accordingly that room will never be above 55 degrees,” said one parent.

Another added, “FDR was freezing today as well!!! My daughter is a student there she said about half of the classes required a coat!!!!”

And a third noted, “My kid told me the same thing happened in North Park yesterday. Their class didn’t have heat so they were all in one of the other rooms.”

The school district posted another “closed” announcement for Haviland on Feb. 4, again blaming the heating issues. All the district schools were closed the following day because of the snowstorm.

Citing “the education, health and safety of our students and staff” as highest priority, Rychick posted another letter on the district’s website on Jan. 23 detailing the issues and efforts to solve them.

She noted, “Taken altogether, the extreme weather conditions and aging infrastructure, the toll on our students’ programs and schedules has negatively affected our normal operations. We continue to remedy isolated repairs in a timely matter and are utilizing all our resources to address the larger systemic issues.”

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