As the beginning of the new school year looms, all eyes are on the interim school buildings in Cobb Parr Park.
The site has been still for months, but this week that has changed. Concrete was poured at 1 a.m. Saturday, said Director of Schools Dr. John Combs, and the crews got to work as quickly as they could on Monday.
“They’re actually ahead of schedule at this point,” he said midway through Day 3.
The metal studs for the sheet rock, which will form the 10-foot high classroom walls, were already in place and the encapsulated hallways, a code requirement for fire safety, were beginning to take shape. There are light fixtures and duct work hanging from the ceiling, plumbing going in for the restrooms, and drywall ready to be installed.
“Officially yesterday was day two of this. As you can see, what’s already happened in just those two days.”
There have been many people who’ve been outspoken about the buildings, but Combs hopes to ease some of those concerns.
“When you go in a classroom, other than looking up and seeing the ceiling, it’s going to look like a classroom. [There’s] going to be a Promethean board hanging on the wall, there will be outlets so they can plug things in and charge their devices,” he said. “The teachers can hang whatever they want to up on the wall, just like regular drywall, just like a sheet rock wall. They can hang up student work and all that kind of stuff. It’s not going to be like a cubicle or anything like that, it’s a drywalled room.”
Combs was excited about the progress on a recent tour with The Leader, sharing different features and plans of the structures that will house approximately 1,000 students and teachers while Crestview Elementary and Crestview Middle, both destroyed by an EF-3 tornado on March 31, are rebuilt.
Service Master, the company contracted to perform the work, has promised a 28-day turnaround and will have up to 75 employees working through the night if need be.
Combs recently answered questions posed by a concerned parent. That Q&A is provided below:
Q: How secure are the buildings? (i.e. This is a cloth building and are there going to be securities in place to protect from storms, lighting, shootings, etc.)
A: The buildings are composed of a fabric structure with outer walls that are encased in a metal interior and exterior shell. The roof is snow-rated and specifically designed to withstand the elements for an extended time. One of the reasons for the delay is because the fire marshal added quite a few specifications for us to include prior to housing our kids. The exit doors are all steel and we will have cameras and a fire alarm system as well. Each school will also have a resource officer. Each school structure is approximately 21,000 square feet.
Q: Are they going to be in one classroom all day?
A: My understanding from each principal is that classes will rotate similar to how they did in the old buildings.
Q: Will the elementary school have recess?
A: The elementary school will have recess. There’s actually a playground on site.
Q: How often will the outside bathrooms be cleaned?
A: The bathrooms will be between the two structures, under an extended roof, and will be cleaned daily. They are also connected to the city sewer system and complete with running water.
Q: Will there be extra stuff, like band, choir, specials (ie P.E., music, art, etc.), and clubs?
A: We are working to make sure that we offer as many options for kids as possible until we can get them back in to the new schools. Not trying to avoid an answer, but this may be a better question for the principals to answer since they are the ones hammering out the logistics.
Q: Will they have sports?
A: They will have sports. Charger Academy and Covington High School have graciously agreed for CMS to share their facilities.
Q: Traffic flow for pick-up and drop-off is a major concern being as it’s the public park.
A: We’ve met with city fire officials, the vice mayor, and the Covington police chief to determine traffic flow. That information is going to be out shortly.
Q: Sound control worries are also something that has come up.
A: The classroom walls are going to be sheetrock and between 10 and 12 feet tall which should help with sound issues. Regardless, it won’t be as quiet as a normal classroom would be, but we’re going to monitor and see how that plays out for future adjustment if necessary.
Q: Coverings to make it to and from the bathrooms without getting wet.
A: The corridor to the bathrooms will be appropriately covered.
Q: Where will lunch be served? Please clarify if lunch will be made on site or if it will come from Charger Academy.
A: The plan right now is for lunch to be prepared at Charger Academy and Covington High and then transported to CES/CMS. We will also have a structure on site that cafeteria workers will use as a prep station.
Q: Please clarify for the public what the bathrooms are. I personally have clarified that no they are NOT Port-a-Potty-style many times.
A: The bathrooms are actually called wxecutive restroom trailers. They are brand new and awaiting transport from Memphis. There will be six trailers, including ADA-compliant restrooms. The nurses will also have an executive trailer on site that includes a restroom.
Q: Will the building be ready for the Aug. 7 school start date? We understand the challenges with a new building but many of us need to make arrangements for childcare if the schools are not ready. Please give us sufficient notice to make arrangements if needed.
A: Ahh, the magic question that keeps me up at night! Our goal is to have everything rolling Aug. 7; however, we are also working on a “plan B” in case the schools aren’t quite ready for whatever reason. We will hopefully have that plan out to you no later than next week because we know that childcare is always difficult.
In addition to these questions, there have been questions about the buildings’ capacity. Combs said pre-kindergarten students and one of the special needs classes will attend Charger Academy, up the hill. The elementary school building will house kindergarten through fourth grades and the middle school will house fifth through eighth grades.
There’s a plan for lunches, P.E., drop-off and dismissal. Combs said once those plans have been finalized they will be communicated.
As he learned during COVID-19, he’s calling the plans “fluid.” If there are changes – if the buildings aren’t quite ready for the first day of school – the system will notify parents.
“I’ve told everybody there that we’d love to get the kids back in that first week in August, but that’s a goal. I’m going to say fluid because I’m not going to stick my neck all the way out there. But that’s the goal is to get them in here. And it may be and we’re working on a plan B, so if they’re not, we can spread them out for a little while or do some other things with them until we can get them in here.”