Stu Gross looks inside one of the boilers in the middle school's boiler room as Gwen Howard looks on.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Stu Gross looks inside one of the boilers in the middle school's boiler room as Gwen Howard looks on. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE

The Kingsland community facility committee toured the halls and innards of Kingsland Middle School last Tuesday, Aug. 19, for an up-close inspection and inhalation of the building. 

The committee is comprised of Kingsland School Board members Troy Asher and Gwen Howard, Kingsland Superintendent John McDonald, Kingsland High School Principal Jim Hecimovich, fourth grade teacher Rachael Burt, high school history teacher Niki DeBuhr, who was absent, Kingsland Elementary and Middle School Principal Chris Priebe, building and grounds director John Dols, and community members Jack Bly, Jeff Erding, Steve Heusinkveld, Stuart Gross, Al Williams and Amber Zigan.

The tour was originally meant to last only half an hour, but the committee checked out the school from top to bottom, basement to roof.

The boiler room, where the massive Kewanee boilers as big as train cars stand, concerns Dols because the units are not as efficient as they could be. Also of concern was the “new gym,” which was built in 1975 and has a bubbled-up floor that he pointed out does contain mercury.

The tour also included the repurposed wood shop classroom, which now serves as a Project Lead the Way (PLTW) science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) lab, and the adjoining computer lab — an effort commended by the state’s education commissioner, Brenda Cassellius.

The tour made its way through the boys’ and girls’ locker rooms where ventilation is a concern, up to the roof to survey leaks along the joint near the cafeteria and the main building’s roofline, and back down again to classrooms where the fourth through sixth graders receive their daily instruction.

Deferred maintenance issues identified at the middle school building include HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) upgrades, electrical upgrades, replacement of the entrance doors on the north, south and east ends, asbestos abatement throughout the building, gym floor mercury abatement, bathroom stall replacement for better air quality, repair of roof leaks, sealing outer walls, tuckpointing, removing a rotted section of the old gym floor, sealing and filling the parking lot, removing hazardous material-containing sinks from classrooms, repairing or replacing fire escapes, security upgrades, bell system replacement, hot water loop repairs, making the playground handicapped accessible and rescuing the staff member in the school kitchen who must do the dishes without a commercial dishwasher vent hood.

Dols explained that the “new gym” floor’s mercury mystery is an expensive one since it has begun to lift and bubble in places, and that if he were to attempt any repairs, it would have to be torn out — until any section of the flooring is removed, the mercury is contained. The question that would remain is whether the mercury has leached into the concrete underneath, and, he observed, finding out would incur costs.

When the tour progressed to the classroom wing, the building and maintenance director clarified that air quality, not mold, would be a deciding factor in his determination to close the middle school on humid days, as Burt’s fourth grade classroom felt dank and stuffy in the late summer heat, and committee members expressed their concern about students’ ability to learn in such a space, particularly since opening the two small windows would not make much difference if the humidity is high outside.

Wall air conditioners and dehumidifiers paired up have been used as a means of removing humidity from classrooms, but Zigan commented that she could not remain in the classroom due to an allergic reaction and that she felt that her children would not be able to learn well if they were to be required to stay in the room.

The tour concluded and committee members convened in a conference room to review the deferred maintenance lists for both buildings, attempting to prioritize which items would garner the most attention if they were to be chosen out of the many.

Deferred maintenance items identified at the high and elementary school building include roof leaks, caulk joint repairs, sealing the parking lot, painting the bus garage, re-roofing the storm-damaged crow’s nest and installing new windows, asbestos removal, security upgrades, new carpet in the entryways and offices, replacing Univent air handling equipment in the high school, replacing bathroom stalls, tuckpointing the building and upgrading the wiring.

Other needs included in the list were lights for the baseball and softball fields, goal posts for the football field, a scoreboard for the softball field, new tables for the Kingsland Café, lighting for the flagpole, new outdoor bleachers and ball field aggregate.

McDonald related that some of the committee’s members had also reviewed documents related to the 2008 construction project that resulted in the elementary wing being built in Spring Valley and the high school being renovated, as Erding had suggested that if the architect had not done work up to par and warranties were still in effect, the district might have some recourse. The documents had been located, and Bly and Erding reviewed them along with McDonald, but the work is essentially out of warranty.

Dols stated that while work on both buildings can be done partly through health and safety funding for specific projects, anything that’s taken out — such as flooring to remove asbestos or mercury — has to be replaced using the district’s capital.

“I don’t think it’s an issue of whether to keep ‘this building’ or ‘that building.’ It’s all about what’s going to be best for the kids,” said Dols. “We’ve got issues in both buildings, and the most important thing is giving our kids an opportunity for a 21st century education.”

The committee members concurred as they set another workshop for Tuesday, Sept. 16, at 6 p.m. at the high school.  For more information, call (507) 346-7276 or log onto the Kingsland website at