Like its namesake, O’Loughlin Elementary has been a pioneer, Principal Vicki Gile told Hays Unified School District 489 school board members Monday night. But even that spirit can’t fix all the building’s problems.

Born on an Ellis County farm in 1894, Kathryn O’Loughlin McCarthy was only one of four women to earn a law degree from the University of Chicago. She was the first female attorney in Hays, the first female representative from northwest Kansas in the state Legislature, and in 1932 became the first woman elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, where she served on the Education Committee and supported legislation and policies beneficial to farmers in her single, two-year term.

O’Loughlin Elementary, which was opened by USD 489 during the 1990 school year, was built around the “looping” concept in which students stay with the same teacher for two years, and was the first in Hays to have all-day kindergarten.

“She was a pioneer woman in the field she chose, and I feel like O’Loughlin has kind of been a pioneer in being progressive as a school and doing things that had never been done before,” Gile said.

That pioneer attitude has won the school accolades, including being named a Blue Ribbon School last year by the U.S. Department of Education and a National Elementary and Secondary Education Act Distinguished School the year before.

The nearly 60-year-old building began as the Marian High School, which has its pluses and minuses. Gile pointed those out during a tour by the Hays USD 489 school board Monday for their monthly work study session.

The Catholic high school for girls was built in the shape of a cross. That helps provide a homey, family oriented feel to the school, Gile said. But it does create problems in class transitions.

Each special class, except for art, is located along one hallway of an arm of the cross. That can cause problems when it comes time for the school’s 387 students to change classes.

“Every 30 minutes, we may have five classes moving that way and five classes moving this way and so it does get kind of congested. It isn’t ideal for movement of the students and staff,” she said.

However, since the school was constructed as a high school, most of the classrooms are more spacious compared to the district’s other elementary schools.

But space is still an issue, particularly in offices. The technology classroom is shared with the school’s library, which was originally the Catholic school’s chapel. The space for technology classes is divided from the library with shelving.

“We do have classes in the library. Kristy (Oborny) is our half-time library media specialist here and she does teach classes to all three levels here,” Gile said.

“Depending on what’s happening in both of these spaces, it’s not working on many days,” she said.

In the building’s physical issues, windows are big concern. The stained-glass windows of the original chapel still exist

“Given the age of the building, those windows have held up to an extent, but they are one thing that probably needs to be looked at. As Kristy can attest to, they really aren’t water resistant any more. They do take in some water that probably isn’t good given the fact we have a lot books,” Gile said.

In one classroom, the teacher keeps towels on hand.

“If there’s any hint of rain, snow or wind or anything, she has to keep a constant bed of towels there just to kind of protect everything,” Gile said.

Space for shelter from severe weather is also a concern. The hallways are not ideal due to skylights and windows. There is space beneath the stage in the gymnasium, but it also is not ideal.

“Three-fourths of our school is able to fit in there. The other one-fourth probably aren’t in ideal spots,” she said.

The gym is also used for extra seating during the lunch periods for about five classes, Gile said. The cafeteria can seat about 13 classes.

“It does cause issues with supervision. We have to do two areas instead of one area. But we make it work. That’s the bottom line, to make it work no matter what you’ve got,” she said.

The cafeteria is used at other times, as well, for ELL testing or for class celebrations where parents might be involved.

“It’s not completely utilized at all parts of the day, but it’s more isolated times when we need extra space for different things,” she said.

Restrooms are an issue, as well. Because the building was originally a girls school, the boys have only about half the bathroom space as girls, Gile said. In one hallway, there is only a girls’ bathroom and another has no bathroom at all.