Mother Nature’s arctic blast earlier this week continues to create havoc for Harlan County School District officials.
Superintendent Mike Howard said late Thursday afternoon, the district was forced to cancel classes again on Friday — the fifth day — due to numerous problems resulting from the sub-zero temperatures earlier in the week.
“I understand to many it appears we should be in school. However, there are so many different factors that we must look at on a daily basis to make that decision. The safety, education and welfare of our students is my number one priority and we will err on the side of caution,” he said.
While temperatures are warming, the Harlan County School District is like many school districts, nursing homes and other institutions across Kentucky and Tennessee finding that problems continue to result from the extremely low temperatures even though the thawing has begun.
“We have numerous elementary and middle school classrooms without heat,” said Howard. “Pipes in some of the classrooms ruptured and others are thawing out and bursting as we speak.”
And, just when he thought the district’s maintenance crews might be getting a handle on the reports of various problems, Howard received another call early Friday morning of a newly ruptured pipe at James A. Cawood Elementary School. Water spilled into several classrooms.
Howard said the school district cooperated with a request from the Black Mountain Utility District to delay reopening school on Friday to allow the utility to restore water service and pressure to the communities.
Various problems have been reported in different schools, said Howard.
“The problems were not isolated to one school or to one area of the county,” he said.
In addition, Howard said a delay helped parents, staff and students who have been severely impacted by frozen and ruptured pipes in their homes. The superintendent noted the frigid temperatures created havoc for the district’s transportation staff as well. He said mechanics have been throughout the county working to get buses running again.
“The cold weather is especially hard on diesel engines that cannot be plugged into engine heaters. Most of our buses are parked in areas where engine heaters cannot be plugged in,” he said.
“We still have a lot of areas utilized for our school buses to turn around in up in some hollows that continue to have significant ice and snow,” he said.
Howard commended the district’s maintenance and transportation staffs for their hard work this week trying to get schools open and buses running again.
The financial ramifications to the district are not yet known, he said.
“It has been a costly week,” said Howard. “Every time a pipe bursts or a heating unit bursts, then it has to be fixed.”