An impassioned speech by Central Elementary’s principal, Judy Walker, led others to begin voicing their opinions about the fate of the 70-year-old school. Many aspects of the original building are leading educators who work there to look for solutions to their problems.
Lack of available technology seems to have the biggest impact on Central’s veterans, but space issues, drafts and overall deterioration are on the list of things teachers and administrators feel needs to be addressed.
“I think the greatest impact that the age of the building has is that it limits the amount of technology that we are able to offer our students,” Walker said. “We have just a few SmartBoards on campus and any time they consider placing a new one, outlets and wiring are a huge issue.”
Many of the teachers on Walker’s staff also cited technology as an issue that impacts their ability to educate the 400 children who attend Central.
“I test the whole school three times a year to monitor their progress and I only have one computer in my room,” said Lori Colegrove, the Response to Intervention (RTI) teacher. “I have to bring all of the children to the lab, which takes a lot of time. I would be able to teach a lot more if it didn’t take so long to test the children who need help.”
Other teachers echoed Colegrove’s concerns, citing the lack of technology for imposing undue restrictions on their lesson plans and class activities. Another technology problem involves a machine much older than a computer. The school’s air conditioning system is comprised of window units, a system many say hampers the ability to maintain the course of a lesson.
“We have to adapt our teaching styles to the building. We can’t teach while the (air conditioning) units are running because they are so loud. When we lose teaching time, everyone suffers,” said Jody Smith, a special-education inclusion teacher.
Other teachers said they sometimes go without air conditioning even if the air is stuffy so they do not lose valuable teaching time.
Other issues regarding the units can be seen during the winter, when according to Stephanie Childs, a kindergarten teacher, the pilot lights in her classroom that operate the heaters go out with the slightest draft.
“The pilot lights will not stay lit if there is the slightest amount of wind. We have to call maintenance to light them again. Because of the age of the building, that is just something that we deal with,” Childs said.
Signing up for SmartBoard usage or hauling a whole class of kindergartners down to the lab is something that teacher Becky Thomas considers “very limiting.”
Besides the obvious problems with technology, the school also faces other challenges. The fact that the campus is spread over seven acres with multiple buildings lends to difficulties when moving classrooms of young students to other areas.
“We are so spread out that for kids to go to the restroom from the playground, they must cross an open parking lot with traffic flowing two ways. They obviously cannot go on their own and must be accompanied by a teacher,” Walker said. “We have to always ensure that there are at least two teachers on the playground at once.”
Though the size of the campus is quite large, the size of the classrooms pale in comparison. According to the Texas Education Agency, a classroom for elementary students should be at least 800 square feet, but many of the classrooms at Central are only 600 square feet. The number, made legal because of the building’s age, is one that many teachers find hard to contend with.
“The classrooms are very small; it really squeezes the kids tight,” said kindergarten teacher Shari Farrow.
The overall age of the building is also leading to problems with roof leaks and “overall deterioration,” and many feel that the building has given all it can in the way of a space for classrooms.
“I think the only solution is to tear the building down,” said Walker, who acknowledges that the dust brought in by the old air conditioning units could cause children who are predisposed to allergies to suffer even more.
While Superintendent Dr. Darrell Floyd recognizes that the district is “constantly having to put money into the facility” and that “there is only so much you can do before you have to look at something more drastic,” he is quick to add that the facility study taking place is part of the overall strategic planning process.
Walker states that the overall costs of a total remodel, which is what she feels the building would need to remain viable, would far outweigh the cost of building a new school.
“If we propose a total remodel, we would also have to consider how we could meet current standards that have not applied to our building because of its age. Just to rewire the building would be a huge expense,” said Walker.
The future of the historic building is something that will be considered during a comprehensive facility study that is taking place over the summer and will be presented at the July meeting of the Stephenville ISD school board.
Walker hopes the fate of the building will be decided by the time the strategic planning process is complete, which should be sometime during the next school year.
“There is something about the building’s history that is kind of cool, but we know we could do better in a facility that is more hospitable to teaching,” Childs said.