PN-GISD: Security, flooding among buildings’ woes

New visitors to Taft Elementary School need to take note of a sign a few yards inside the building’s front entrance if looking for the front office.

The sign, hanging from the ceiling in a hallway intersection, directs visitors to go toward the left to find the office, which is midway down yet another hall and overlooking a courtyard. Therein lies a problem — security.

Inside his office Principal Nathan Addison, as well as several other personnel, can view via cameras, see who is at the door and buzz them in. Most who are familiar with the campus know to take a left at the intersection but newcomers may fail to notice the sign.

“Safety is an issue and the district administration has done well as far as making the campus secure,” Addison said while seated in front of monitors that show different areas of the school. “But from the office we can’t see them come in and don’t know where they went. If someone wanted to cause a problem… we are secured as best we can.”

Taft Elementary, located at 2500 Taft in Port Arthur city limits but Port Neches-Groves Independent School District, is one of six elementary schools in PN-GISD. A facility assessment provided by Gallagher Construction Services in 2014 shows each of the elementary schools share the need for better security as well as size issues, while some have heating, ventilation and air conditioning problems, structural damage and Americans with Disabilities Act upgrades.

A district facilities committee, which toured each of the elementary schools, met with trustees last year and recommended demolishing all six of the schools and constructing four new ones. Since then a bond committee was formed to take a closer look at a possible $130 million bond to fund the project.

A pump inside Taft school gym helps during heavy rains. Mary Meaux/The News

A pump inside Taft school gym helps during heavy rains.
Mary Meaux/The News

Inside the 50-year-old Taft school, Addison walks out of his office past a conference room turned office for a staff member. Then there’s the former bookroom, where school records were stored, this is now a counselor’s area that’s connected to another small office.

With about 400 prekindergarten to third graders Taft is pretty full but accommodations have been made. One classroom where Title 1 students and those who may need some extra help has been divided into two by a wall partition. The wall doesn’t go all the way to the ceiling as electronic equipment shares that space.

Taft school teacher Barbara Landry watches students at a nearby whiteboard. A wall behind her divides the room into two but sound travels easily over the wall causing difficulties when one room needs silence. Mary Meaux/The News

Taft school teacher Barbara Landry watches students at a nearby whiteboard. A wall behind her divides the room into two but sound travels easily over the wall causing difficulties when one room needs silence.
Mary Meaux/The News

The problem is the speakers can be heard on both sides of the wall, even the side that needs silence.

Further into the school is a sunken room with auditorium-style seats. Flooding from heavy rains have made its way into the room leaving rust at the bottom of the seats.

Here another wall has been erected where the stage would have been at one time. This houses the bookroom/records on one side and a detention area on the other.

“During bad rains we see a minor flood inside,” Addison said. Whirlpools can be seen in the school courtyard when the drainage district pumps kick in, he added.

A low area in a room at Taft school has water damage from rain. Mary Meaux/The News

A low area in a room at Taft school has water damage from rain.
Mary Meaux/The News

Vivian Fischer, head custodian, knows the challenges as well.

“I keep a box fan in my office,” she said while pointing to a sloping area where the rain has stained the concrete floor. The bottom of a nearby file cabinet also holds rust. “When it rains water comes in through the vents into the boys restroom over the toilets. You learn to live with it.”

Fischer works hard to keep the school clean then adds a little extra work when the rains come.

Inside the gym, which also serves as an auditorium, is a metal grate that holds a pump. Something you normally wouldn’t see inside an elementary school gym, Addison said.

Ceiling tiles damaged from rain at Taft school. Mary Meaux/The News

Ceiling tiles damaged from rain at Taft school.
Mary Meaux/The News

Even with the problems of dampness in rooms and challenges associated with heavy rains Addison loves his school.

“I’m proud of this school,” he said.

Woodcrest Elementary School, 1522 Heisner St. in Port Neches, has also seen better days. The school was constructed in 1950, the foundation on the east wing was repaired in 2007 and roofing was replaced in 2009, according to the facilities report.

Like Addison, Principal Fae Sandifer also has concerns about security.

Woodcrest has the same camera system as the other schools and the Gallagher report shows security problems as well.

One door does remain open and provides access from recess, Sandifer said.

“We trained the kiddos. There are stop signs on ach door and the kids know not to open it. I told them not to open the door even is it’s Santa Claus,” Sandifer said.

One day she experienced their training. She was at a cafeteria and didn’t have her keys to get back in. She tapped on the door but the student who saw her wouldn’t open the door. She ended walking all the way around and ended up giving the student a purple ribbon for being “caught doing good.”

Woodcrest Elementary School Principal Fae Sandifer discusses foundation problems in the school. This wing of the school has cracks down the floor. Mary Meaux/The News

Woodcrest Elementary School Principal Fae Sandifer discusses foundation problems in the school. This wing of the school has cracks down the floor.
Mary Meaux/The News

Sandifer is proud of her school but realizes there are problems. Inside the counselor’s office the foundation has pulled away from the wall and another classroom has a fun-house feel due to foundation issues.

The third grade wing was created by pouring concrete over the area and red, steel posts are seen intermittently down the hall. The slope to this wing also has foundation problems and a long crack is visible through the floor tiles.

“We also have two classrooms below the foundation,” she said.

Structural damage at Woodcrest Elementary School. Mary Meaux/The News

Structural damage at Woodcrest Elementary School.
Mary Meaux/The News

Outside the large glass windows facing the back of the school is a small ditch next to a sidewalk where sections have been taken out to aid with drainage.

Elsewhere is a classroom which experiences routine leaks from where a roof was laid over another. A drip pan was installed in the ceiling to catch water and must be emptied regularly by maintenance personnel.

Foundation damage at Woodcrest Elementary School. Mary Meaux/The News

Foundation damage at Woodcrest Elementary School.
Mary Meaux/The News

There are electrical issues as well. When adding portable buildings to accommodate the school’s growth the building was hooked straight “to the pole” as the breakers are at capacity.

“We have about 400 kids here,” she said. “We could maybe accommodate about 50 more.”

Some rooms are being used for multiple purposes. Across the hall from her office is a room that acts as the counselor’s closet, bookroom, occupational training room, other training, conference room and detention room.

A multi-purpose room at Woodcrest school serves as a counselor’s closet, bookroom, occupational training room, other training, conference room and detention room. Mary Meaux/The News

A multi-purpose room at Woodcrest school serves as a counselor’s closet, bookroom, occupational training room, other training, conference room and detention room.
Mary Meaux/The News

“Our custodians have been phenomenal. We’re blessed to have them,” she said.

She pointed out corners of floors where no wax buildup is seen. During the summer every light fixture is taken down, cleaned and put back up.

Both Sandifer and Addison are part of the district’s bond committee and are ready for district patrons to see first hand the issues brought forward by the Gallagher report.

“We welcome patrons to visit the campus,” Sandifer said.

E-mail: mary.meaux@panews.com

Twitter: MaryMeauxPANews

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