Central office staff moves into schools as health issues hit administration building

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Anyone looking for Superintendent Dr. Elizabeth Jones and her staff doesn’t need to stop by the administration building on Seminary Street – they aren’t there.

Serious issues with the central office building – the old high school building – have forced the administrative staff to go “back to school.”

“The central office is dead,” Dr. Jones said this week. “We have closed the building and we are currently at the middle school. There was a horrible smell that kept getting worse and worse. Something had to be done.”

Dr. Jones said that the smell was a result of sewer problems and water leaks in the basement of the old building; and that mold in the basement along with asbestos has made the situation worse. The school corporation had standing water pumped from the basement recently, but two days later it was again knee deep, which forced the decision to relocate.

Currently, the superintendent and her staff; along with corporation treasurer Wilma Swango and her staff, are operating in the second floor computer room at Switzerland County Middle School. The room is at the top of the stairs to the left; and Dr. Jones said that anyone who needs information or assistance from the central office is welcome to see them there.

The special education staff and the Title I staff, whose offices are also housed in the administration building, are currently working out of a classroom on the east side of Jefferson-Craig Elementary School.

“We realized that we could no longer use the administration building facility because we had no restroom facilities and no water,” Dr. Jones said. “We are moving forward with school and with our work.”

Dr. Jones said that the school board has asked her to look into the cost of repairs to the administration building; but noted that other issues are going to have to be addressed, as well.

“Something that has come to my attention since I became superintendent is that there is no fire escape off of the second floor of the building,” the superintendent said. “The people who work in the offices on the second floor have no means of escape if there is a fire or some other situation. That is something that we need to get corrected before we move back in.”

The superintendent said that there are other issues that will need to be addressed, as well. She said that the electricity in the building needs to be brought up to code; noting that she had to turn off the lights before turning on the microwave in order to avoid blowing a fuse.

“We’ve got a lot of problems,” Dr. Jones said. “We’ve got electrical problems. We’ve got mold. We’ve got asbestos. We’ve got a horrible smell and no restrooms or water. Obviously we can’t be in there.”

Although relocating everything to the middle school and to the elementary school has been somewhat of an inconvenience, Dr. Jones said that the staffs at both schools have been very helpful in directing parents and others to the offices; and noted that anyone who has a need of information from the administrative staff is welcome to come to the temporary offices.

She also noted that John Sieglitz and the technology staff has rewired the phone system, so if a parent or someone else dials the central office phone number, 427-2611, it will ring into the new temporary offices.

“We want this to be as convenient for parents as possible,” Dr. Jones said.

The meetings of the Switzerland County School Board are being held in the cafeteria of the middle school while the problem is addressed, and Dr. Jones said that she is hoping to have more information on the extent of the work at this Monday night’s board meeting.

With all of the work needed, is it possible that the school board may find it less costly to completely and permanently relocate, rather than facing huge expenses on an aging building?

“It could be less costly to relocate, we just don’t know that right now,” Dr. Jones said. “We need to be prudent on this, but we will not go back in until the building is ready. I don’t want to pay a lot of money and still have an old building. We’re looking at different options, but the building needs to be safe for our employees and for the people who come to our offices in need of information.”

Dr. Jones said that she believes that no one will be back in the administration building by the end of this school year because of the extensive renovations that need to be made; but said that if the school board determines that the best course of action is to fix the building; then hopefully all of the repairs can be made in time for the staff to be back in the building at the beginning of the 2009-2010 school year this fall.

“I would say that would be the earliest that we would be back in the building,” Dr. Jones said. “When you’re dealing with issues such as asbestos, that has to be done correctly by trained people. Whatever we do, we have to do it the right way for the long term.”

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Dr. Jones also announced that Switzerland County students and staff will be going to school on Good Friday, which is Friday, April 10th.

The day was originally set as a day with no school on the original calendar, but with all of the schools days that have been missed due to weather – windstorms in the fall and snowstorms in the winter – being able to make one of the missed days up by going to school on Good Friday was a positive.

“I surveyed teachers and parents on the issue,” Dr. Jones said of going to school on Good Friday. “I only had two people tell me that they didn’t want to go to school on Good Friday for religious reasons. I believe that it’s something that we need to do under the circumstances.”

Dr. Jones did say that if a student has a religious reason to not be in school on Good Friday because they are attending a special Good Friday service, then the student will be excused from school for the time period that the service takes place. Students should bring in a note with the time of the service that is signed by their pastor prior to that day.