School district prepares for start of school year

HVAC system fails


August 25, 2022

Wahkiakum School District Board of Directors heard about improvements made by custodial and maintenance staff at the district, an improved phone system thanks to Wahkiakum West, and the plan for opening the school for the academic year, which begins next week.

Superintendent Brent Freeman said there was another HVAC failure at the district, which had to be replaced immediately as it was used to keep computer equipment cool.

“I didn’t have a choice or an option but to replace it,” Freeman said. “It is going to cost us $15-20,000 by the time it’s installed. We didn’t go out for a formal bid we called to fix it the fastest and who could fix it the best.”

The unit that was put in six years ago was undersized, Freeman said, and not under warranty. It will be replaced with a unit that will be more appropriate and capable of keeping their servers cool.

“There was a lot of good work done here this summer, but this is another failure that comes out of MSOC (Materials, Supplies, and Operating Costs) dollars,” Freeman said. “Instead of going into education, our money ends up going back into another bandaid in a room that should have never been a bandaid.”

Freeman said that a federal CISA (Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency) team had completed a cyber assessment and a physical security assessment of their IT infrastructure, district wide.

“His eyes were opened at the state of our facilities here,” Freeman told the board.

Paul Lawrence, district maintenance supervisor, went over a lengthy list of maintenance and custodial projects completed by his team over the summer.

The list included but was not limited to cleaning everything inside and out, sometimes more than once. The high school bleachers in the gym were dismantled, realigned, fixed, and rebuilt. New locker room doors were installed, a dishwasher was rebuilt, a walk-in freezer was serviced, the jungle gyms on the playground were cleaned, swings were replaced and painted, slides were repaired.

An old shed was converted to a new teaching space. The baseball team painted the baseball dugouts, but one member of Lawrence’s team, Sadie Mace, painted the softball dugouts all by herself. Thanks to the loan of equipment from the Town of Cathlamet, a leak in a water line was repaired.

Freeman enumerated continual problems with the phone system provided by CenturyLink and all the trouble tickets the district filed with the company, before introducing Ken Johnson, the CEO of Wahkiakum West, who offered a fix at a lower cost when he learned about the issue.

“Out of nowhere comes Ken,” Freeman said. “We’re going to get a phone system that is less expensive and more reliable. What I appreciate about what Ken has done, is he didn’t try to think about contracts or the price point. He said let’s get it to work. You are a school, you guys need the service, we’re a community.”

The change could potentially save the district $500-700 a month.

On Thursday, the new phones will start arriving. Temporary phone numbers will be listed on the district website while they wait for CenturyLink to release the phone numbers the district has always used.

Johnson explained what they found at the district and how they would improve the phone system. He expected all the new phones to be installed by Monday.

“You won’t have an in house phone system to maintain,” Johnson said. He said that the quality of their internet would have to be maintained and he proposed to do that by possibly adding a back up line to WW at no additional cost.

“Not as your primary internet feed, I’ve always got to make sure to keep the regulations clear on that,” he added. “We’re glad to be here. This is a great opportunity for us, which is why we jumped at it, to support the community.”

Freeman said that WW is offering an internship for a local student, and that Johnson and Steve Carson, who sold Skamokawa Internet Services to WW, were applying for a grant that could potentially bring computer equipment and more advances to the district.

Ron Wright, who leads Wahkiakum High School and 4-H robotics teams, said that Carrie Backman of the Wahkiakum Washington State Extension Office had won a $200,000 career development grant to support Wahkiakum and Naselle schools.

He also talked about the potential for local students to learn about broadcasting with WW, which has begun offering television service that will include local content.

“We’ve got people out here trying to make things better,” Freeman said of Johnson and Wright, “These are cool opportunities.”

Wright talked about a county emergency radio initiative which was addressed in the July 7 edition of The Wahkiakum Eagle.

School starts on August 31. Freeman talked about how the district would handle the ongoing issues with covid-19. There will not be mask requirements, or six feet social distancing, but the school has to offer testing. They will have take home tests available. Results will be reported to the county health department. If someone tests positive, they are requested to stay home for five days and if still symptomatic after that, stay away until they are asymptomatic. The other matter is that staff and visitors are required to be vaccinated, but Freeman said there was not yet any clear guidance on boosters.

The board approved the hire of new paraeducator Gina Marsyla and April Peterson, who joined food service, and bus driver Jerry Lyski’s retirement.


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