At six years shy of its centennial, Lincoln Elementary School is still overall structurally sound. But its 1926 infrastructure is inadequate for 21st century needs.
That was what Hays USD 489 school board members and others in attendance at Monday night’s school board work study session heard as they toured the building, from its basement boiler room to second-floor classrooms and storage.
“As far as the actual structure of the building, it’s good. The masonry, all that part of it, it’s got a lot of strength,” said Rusty Lindsay, the district’s buildings and grounds director.
Lindsay said the original 1926 structure is actually more sound than the 1950s additions.
“The problem is the infrastructure. The plumbing, windows, they just weren’t built for what we’re trying to use them for,” he said.
“All the plumbing is galvanized pipe I’m sure, and … it was plastered into the walls,” he said.
The original boiler provides steam heat to the building, and Lindsay said those lines, even though taken care of and the water treated, after nearly 100 years are probably “beyond repair.”
The electrical infrastructure also presents problems today.
“When this 1926 building was built, it probably had incandescent lights, and there was probably one or two plug-ins because there wasn’t much that ran on electricity back then,” he said.
Principal Kerri Lacy, who led the tour, added many of the classrooms have multiple devices plugged into those outlets. And while the masonry provides sturdy walls, their thickness blocks Wi-Fi signals. The school’s video doorbell had to be hardwired because it could not receive a signal through the masonry.
Space for today’s class sizes and administrative needs also poses problems. Lincoln is the only elementary school in the district to offer only two sections of each class due to space, Lacy said.
It does help that total enrollment at Lincoln this year is 216 students, down slightly from last year, Lacy said, but classrooms can still be a tight fit, particularly on the second floor where fourth- and fifth-grade classes are located.
“You’ll notice this room is the same size as (the first-grade) room right below it,” she said. “But the kiddos are bigger. The desks are bigger. So we’re really compacted in these rooms. Plus our fifth grade is the largest that we have in the building this year.”
Fifth-grade enrollment at Lincoln is at 42 students this year, with 22 in one classroom and 20 in the other.
Teachers for English Language Learners and Title I students all share one classroom, with shelving and cabinets dividing it into three sections. A required room for nursing mothers on staff — nine last year — was built out of a closet, and the spaces for the nurse, psychologist and speech therapist are not much larger.
The lack of an elevator is also an issue. Lacy said there’s at least one or two students — or even staff — each year who have a medical issue such as injury or surgery requiring them to use crutches.
For students in fourth and fifth grade on the second floor, once those students are up the stairs, they stay there during the day. Lunches are brought to them, as the cafeteria is in the basement.
“We invite friends to get their lunch and eat lunch with them. We have friends stay in for recess and hang out with them just because it’s too hard to get up and down the stairs,” she said.
But the computer lab and library are both on the first floor, so students aren’t able to use those facilities unless parents give permission for the student to be carried down the stairs or come to the school to do so themselves.
The school keeps a wheelchair at the bottom of one set of stairs to help move an injured student or staff member quickly out of the building during drills or an emergency.
The stairs also pose problems for cafeteria deliveries and maintenance.
“Probably six or seven days a week, we have delivery guys that come in. If you want to see something really scary, you should see the delivery guy come in with five boxes, big boxes, on a dolly and try to get down the stairs,” she said.
The basement kitchen also serves up problems with its waste. A sewage lift is needed since the kitchen is lower than the sewage system, Lindsay said. But it can still create a bad smell.
“It’s not waste like in restroom waste, but it is food waste so you get that yeast stink that comes with it,” he said.
Even though the building is basically structurally sound, it has seen water damage. A now-covered skylight on the second floor usually has a bucket underneath when it rains, Lacy said, and several classrooms on that floor had water damage from the severe storms in August that delayed the start of school for a day.
The second-floor multi-purpose room for art and music classes had about an inch of water on the floor from that storm, Lacy said, and an adjacent room also had water damage.
It would be possible to renovate the building, Lindsay said.
“I was in a district that had the same age building. They can be remodeled and they can be brought up and the elevator put in and everything that you need. It’s just a lot more expensive to go that route,” he said.
When the district proposed a $78.5 million bond in 2017, it was estimated to cost $26 to $28 million to improve Lincoln to today’s needs, while a new elementary would have cost $22 million.
That bond proposal would have built two new elementary buildings to replace Lincoln, Wilson and O’Loughlin, among other facility needs.
A year ago, the developers involved in that and the 2016 bond proposal presented the board with another plan that would expand Roosevelt Elementary, allowing the district to close Lincoln. The board has not acted upon the $29.4 million proposal.