School board hears cafetorium proposal, teachers’ concerns

Published 1:31 pm Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Two proposals for a new cafetorium were presented to the school board for the Picayune Municipal Separate School District at its meeting at noon Tuesday.

Picayune Fire Chief Keith Brown and county emergency operations direction Danny Manley told the board that the county has $2.97 million to build a stand-alone storm shelter to hold residents needing sheltering during a hurricane. Manley said he didn’t like the idea of building a building that was so rarely occupied. Following discussions with Picayune City Manager Harvey Miller, who also is on the school board, and with school officials, Manley said he approached the Federal Emergency Management Agency about building the shelter on the South Side Elementary Schools campus and using it also as a cafetorium.

Manley said the FEMA officials he talked with liked the idea and informed him of another program that could make using the shelter as also as a cafetorium if they weren’t able to get approval to use the $2.97 million for the project. Under the other program, FEMA would pay for the difference between building the cafetorium to normal building standards and strengthening it to where it could also be used as a shelter that would withstand 200 mph winds, have an emergency generator and other emergency features needed to operate as a shelter.

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Following Brown’s and Manley’s presentation, Gary Bailey of Dale-Bailey Architects, who had been sitting in the audience during the presentation, presented the board with plans for a cafetorium at the campus that would serve as a cafeteria for both upper and lower elementary schools and could be used for school presentations and community meetings. Bailey’s plans were drawn based on an earlier request by the school board and before the idea of building the cafetorium to be used as a shelter was presented.

Bailey said he had been involved in similar projects on the Mississippi Gulf Coast following Hurricane Katrina and was currently involved in a similar multipurpose building project for a Gulf Coast school district. He endorsed the proposal by Manley and Brown and urged the school board to move forward with the proposal if FEMA approves it. The cafetorium, as proposed by Bailey before hearing the storm shelter proposal would cost about #3.1 million

The proposal that Bailey presented would also involve new entrances of the two school on the campus to make them more welcoming, work that would bring the total project up to about $4,3 million.

The school board is waiting to hear back from Manley on whether FEMA will work with the school district on some sort of combined cafetorium/storm shelter.

The board also heard from Picayune Memorial High School teacher Allison Wheat about the quality of education in the district. She said students are now leaving the district without the skills they need to succeed in college and she read part of an essay from one of her students to illustrate the problem. She asked the board if a PTO could be formed at the high school and gave the board a list of general suggestions about what she would like to see take place. The board thanked her and asked that she get with other teachers and the high school’s administration to come up with more specific proposals.

The board also heard from Band Boosters president Billy Wally who thanked the board for its efforts to improve the concession stands at the stadium.

Matt Katz, the parent of a student at Nicholson Elementary, and other parents concerned about the district’s disinfecting of classrooms with a material the parents say is aggravating their children’s asthma.

Maintenance director Arnold Smith told the board that the district was following the directions of the manufacturer of NeutraDis in spraying the classrooms. He told the parents the rooms are properly ventilated because the air conditioner system is running during and after the spraying and is constantly pulling fresh air into the rooms.

He said after the meeting that what the district is doing to ensure ventilation in the rooms actually exceeds the disinfectant manufacturers specifications and said he has been in contact with the manufacturer on the matter. Smith also said he has grandchildren in Picayune schools and would do nothing that would harm any of them.

Board member Miller said at the end of the meeting that the district is in a “Lose-lose situation.” He said that if the district doesn’t disinfect and a large number of students become ill with swine flu or another disease, then the majority of the parents will be angry with them rather than just the minority now angry because they are disinfecting.

Assistant Superintendent Brent Harrell said the district’s administration had contacted the office of a doctor who said that the disinfectant may be aggravating the students’ asthma for a conference call on the matter and that the doctor had not returned his call. He refused to reveal the name of the doctor.

On other matters, the board:

— Approved personnel matters.

— Approved the second reading of revisions to two board policies and to the board’s policy manual.

— Approved consent items, including donations by K.C. and Gail Jones to Nicholson Elementary, Trinity United Methodist Church to South Side Lower Elementary and by Red Cross of tissue packets for students.

— Accepted a grant.

— Approved purchasing track uniforms.

— Approved a finance matter.