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Inspection finds grade school building is in good condition

Kenmare Elementary School looks good for its age.

9/09/09 (Wed)

By Caroline Downs

Kenmare Elementary School looks good for its age.
That’s the word from a building inspection conducted August 20th by Mark Nelson of Central Home Inspection, Minot. He was joined for the inspection by Kenmare School Board Building Committee chairman Jan Kostad and member Mike Zimmer.
“In the report, he states that for the age of the building, it’s in pretty good condition,” Kostad said at a meeting of the Building Committee held Thursday.
Kostad joked about following the inspector through the cobwebs of the school’s crawl space, but those cobwebs were about all they encountered. “The structure of the building looked pretty sound to me,” he said. “The crawl space was dry, the I-beams were solid, and the concrete floor is in excellent condition.”
“There wasn’t any mold or anything like we were worried about,” added Zimmer.
The inspection was commissioned following board action during the July meeting. Out-going member Connie Schmit’s motion was approved to have the elementary school inspected before proceeding further with the debate between undertaking a major window repair project at the building or constructing an addition at the high school to accommodate all the district’s students.
The Kenmare school board has been discussing the matter since last winter, after Superintendent Duane Mueller first raised the problem with water leaking into classrooms on the west side of the elementary school building through the windows and panels that surround them.
Immediate concerns
During Thursday’s meeting, the Building Committee reviewed the inspection report with Mueller and business manager Renae Murphy. Kostad noted that the few issues raised in the report could be handled immediately as maintenance items.
One such item was landscaping, with the inspector noting the soil had settled around the exterior of the building. Fill work and grading could be done to drain rainwater and melting snow away from the school. Some tree trimming or removal was also recommended to avoid problems caused by branches growing close enough to potentially damage the building.
“We had Kirk Harris come up and look at it,” Kostad said. “We asked if he had a way to pull that soil away from the school.”
Mueller had also contacted Harris Construction about the work and told the committee the estimated cost for the landscaping project around all sides of the building, including a 100 yards of topsoil and 120 yards of gravel, amounted to $8,620.
Another issue that could be resolved this fall involved damaged downspouts. According to the inspection report, the roof itself is in generally good condition, with some need for graveling in places to protect the tar. However, the old aluminum downspouts need to be replaced with downspouts that do not leak and that divert water away from the building, rather than allowing it to run on other portions of the roof or form puddles at corners of the building.
“The drainage is built into the roof,” Zimmer said. “We just need new downspouts.”
A third item in need of attention was an electrical panel box located in the kitchen storage room, which the committee agreed should be replaced immediately to avoid any fire hazards.
Still debating coal
vs. electric heat
The elementary school’s heating source has been a point of discussion among board members, with a coal boiler currently in use for most of the winter and an option to use propane when necessary.
A problem with water standing in the boiler room was noted by the inspector. He placed blame on a drain likely clogged by coal dust and ash mixed with water and hardened like cement over time, preventing further drainage. He also recommended a repairman with the tools necessary to clear the drain.
The committee agreed that problem could be fixed, but a larger issue is the condition of the boiler itself. “The [boiler] inspector gave us his blessing, but there are a couple of things that need to be addressed,” said Superintendent Mueller. “We know for sure that boiler’s good at least for a year.”
According to Mueller, plumbing pipes attached to the boiler are damaged, and a manhole cover in the boiler area needs a better seal. Mueller has already talked with representatives of Northland Coal, who are hired to start the boiler for the school each year.
Murphy explained the district currently spends between $2,000 and $5,000 each year with Northland Coal for their seasonal work on the boiler. “We may want to have a maintenance agreement with somebody like that,” she said, explaining that other problems, such as those with the pipes and manhole cover, could then be avoided.
In the meantime, the committee wants to continue exploring options for changing the heat to an all-electrical system at the elementary school. Representatives from both MDU and Burke-Divide Electric Cooperative will be contacted regarding the requirements for such a heating system.
Window repair makes sense
The committee’s discussion inevitably turned back to the main question of fixing or abandoning the elementary school. “Do we repair the elementary school or move toward getting everybody up [at the high school]?” asked committee member Craig Ellsworth.
Kostad emphasized the current enrollment numbers, which show an increase over last year. “Look at the classroom sizes this year in grades K-4,” he said. “We’re maintaining in the low 20s. I don’t like the idea of moving all the kids [to the high school] and then running out of space.”
Mueller agreed the higher enrollment numbers had to be a consideration, even for creating classrooms at the high school. “Looking at the elementary numbers, down the road we could have to split two or three classes,” he said. He suggested the Building Committee and school board talk about possible renovations that could be done at the high school to result in more classroom space, as necessary.
Murphy brought up the issue of window repair at the elementary school. “This settles it,” she said, gesturing toward the building inspection report. “Basically we have one major problem down there. Is it worth saving for $125,000? Probably.”
She and Kostad praised work done earlier on the window repair project by J2 Studio architect James Devine of Bismarck and suggested engaging his services again, depending on action by the full school board.
and communication
The committee noted that certain items mentioned by the inspector could be incorporated into regular maintenance routines. “As we work on this project, we need to set up a list of job duties and requirements for the custodians,” Kostad said. “We don’t have a list of job duties, and we need to pinpoint responsibility back to somebody. If we had done proper maintenance on this for the past 20 years, we maybe wouldn’t have these bills.”
“We’re finding things that should have been serviced on an ongoing basis, that weren’t getting done,” Ellsworth added.
Committee members agreed that better communication with the custodians was necessary. “We’ve dropped the ball on our part,” Kostad said, “and we need to meet more often as a committee probably. We need feedback from the custodians, too, on the buildings’ needs.”
Superintendent Mueller said he would take immediate action regarding the downspouts, panel box replacement, drain cleaning in the boiler room and landscaping project, all defined as maintenance items.
Committee members will recommend board approval for the window repair project at the next regular meeting, scheduled for Monday, September 14th.
The right thing to do
Ellsworth tapped his copy of the inspection report. “This made my confidence level do a...180,” he said as he described his former preference for building an addition at the high school rather than repairing the elementary school. “Now, this is obviously a cheaper option than building. There were so many unknowns before. This [inspection] was the right thing to do.”