Severe weather underlines need for school building improvements, expansions

The flood of May 2010 had a devastating impact on all of Nashville. Even those not directly affected knew someone who was. Lives were lost, homes were destroyed, businesses were ruined and whole neighborhoods had to be rebuilt.

For Metro Schools buildings and facilities, the 2014 “arctic vortex” was worse.

The damage was more widespread and emergency repairs more numerous than after the great flood. It’s a rare occurrence, but also the perfect illustration of employee dedication to Nashville’s students.

Here are the raw numbers from last week:

  • 369 work orders for heat
  • 75 work orders for plumbing (so far)
  • 250 bus repairs
  • 100 “road calls” for bus repairs off-site
  • 120 bus batteries replaced
  • More than $132,000 in maintenance costs alone. That does not include costs to the Transportation Department.

But the most important number is this one:

  • 2 instructional days lost

We hate to lose instruction days, but given the circumstances we’re pleased that number isn’t higher. If not for Metro Schools employees working around the clock (literally) in extreme circumstances (like zero-degree temperatures and sometimes chest-high water), it could have been much, much worse.

The hard work of Metro maintenance crews, transportation workers and GCA custodial teams allowed us to start our semester with minimal disruption. We owe them our thanks – today and every day – for keeping our schools in order.

They are prime examples of our philosophy that every single Metro Schools employee is responsible for supporting students.

The maintenance crews do their best with the resources available, but extreme cold takes a toll, particularly on aging plumbing and HVAC systems. The average age of our buildings is 43 years.

The clean up from this weather shines a big spotlight on the need for capital improvements in Metro school buildings. Not only are vital systems often decades old and in need of updating, but our schools use more than 350 portables just to house all 83,000 of our students.

Those portables suffer most in bad weather, with poor insulation, vulnerable electrical lines, no foundations and open walkways back to the main school building.

All told, needed improvements to Metro Schools facilities total more than $1 billion. We chip away at that bit by bit every year through the capital budget allocation from Metro Government, but new needs and changing circumstances – like extreme cold – keep adding to it.

A safe and comfortable learning environment is essential for student success in school. With support from the city, we can give students the buildings they deserve to learn in every day.

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