Tours shine spotlight on aging school facilities

Published 10:04 am Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Dave Daniels shows attendees a corroded portion of a pipe he removed from one of the district’s school buildings. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

Dave Daniels shows attendees a corroded portion of a pipe he removed from one of the district’s school buildings. (Leader photo/TED YOAKUM)

Over the last 18 years, Dave Daniels has developed a bit of a collecting habit.

Unlike most collectors, who acquire items such as stamps or coins for fun, Daniels has amassed a box full of old pneumatic hoses, corroded pipes and tangled electric cords.

For Daniels, the collection isn’t a hobby, but a tangible example of the aging infrastructure at many of Dowagiac’s public school buildings.

The district’s director of operations showed off these items to the group of around 60 parents, educators and concerned residents Monday night, before giving the crowd a tour of Dowagiac Union High School.

The tour was the second in the series of walkthroughs the district is hosting inside their six facilities. Administrators and maintenance workers led four groups throughout nearly the entire high school, examining classrooms, computer labs, the kitchen and even the school’s boiler room.

“You probably see a few things that you didn’t see at the middle school,” said Superintendent Mark Daniel. “That’s OK. The goal we’re trying to move toward is to determine what are the safety and security issues with our schools.”

The high school, which was designed in 1959, has suffered from a number about issues with its electrical, plumbing and heating system over the last several years. The operations director told the audience of a few prominent incidents before the tour began.

Around nine years ago, a pipe ruptured in the girl’s locker room during the winter, flooding the room. Daniels showed a portion of the ruptured pipe to the audience while describing the efforts to repair the issue.

“This is what the pipe looked like when we found it,” he said. “That pipe had been leaking for quite a while, but nothing showed up until it finally burst.”

The school’s pipes were also responsible for an incident two years ago in one of the bathrooms, where steam from a ruptured pipe heated the floors.

“We have these infrared gun that we can take in there, and we saw that the floor was 195 degrees,” Daniels said.

After the tour concluded, attendees were given an opportunity to ask questions to the guides about the school. One of the prime concerns voiced was concerning the high school’s security systems.

While Daniels said that the school has 64 cameras both inside and outside the building, the footage is spilt between two separate recording boxes, which administrators can monitor using software that is no longer supported by the manufacturer.

“We track the movement of our kids and visitors through the hall pretty well,” said Principal Pieter Hoekstra. “Sometimes we have to log out of the old system and into the new system to keep tracking them.”

When asked about the school’s doors, Hoekstra said that main entrance is the only point of access to the building, though sometimes students with dual enrollment will exit from other doors, leaving them unlocked.

In addition, maintenance to damaged doors has caused some issues for staff, as it is difficult to find parts for them.

“[The doors] are a lot problematic,” Daniels said. “Someday, these doors will be so worn out that they’ll fall off the hinges.”

Despite these issues, the superintendent said that Daniels and his crew have kept the high school running fairly smoothly in spite of the aging infrastructure.

“I tip my hat to the maintenance people,” he said. “They have kept things in good condition over the years.”

Hoekstra was also pleased by their performance, he said.

“[The infrastructure] is dated, but it’s taken care of and loved,” he said. “It’s well maintained.”

The feedback gained from this tour and others will be compiled by the district over the next several weeks, in order to determine which aspects of the buildings should be updated. The administration will also conduct a feasibility study for both the high school and elementary schools, which will help form a plan of action for any future renovation needs.

“We’re gathering that data and we’re starting now to think of how to bring it to a committee and how to bring people together to help drive some of what we need to do to upgrade our district,” Superintendent Daniel said.

The district will hold its next set of tours, of Kincheloe and Sister Lakes elementary schools, at 5:30 p.m. on Feb. 17. The date of tours for Patrick Hamilton and Justus Gage has yet to be determined.