Gowanda School Board addresses heating dilemma

GOWANDA — Students were warm and safe at Gowanda Elementary School last week, despite rumors to the contrary. During this week’s board of education meeting, board member Janet Vogtli addressed the social media controversy surrounding an elementary school classroom that caused concern among parents and community members.

During the round table portion of the board meeting, Vogtli stated, “There is so much misinformation out there. Facebook has become our enemy.” She went on to explain that she was contacted by a parent who said students in an elementary classroom were moved due to problems with the heater in their classroom.

Superintendent Dr. Robert Anderson agreed. “Certainly there were some things that should have been corrected,” he said of the heating problem. “Next thing I know, people are dragging us through the mud on Facebook.”

Richard Smith, director of facilities, explained the situation to the board. “Monday (Jan. 28), we got a call that room 166 did not have heat. Two mechanics went over, adjusted the fan and they had heat. Later that day, something else happened: the connector between the fan motor and the fan melted, and there was a smell. At the end of the day, the head custodian shut it off. The teacher stated that the room was fine,” Smith explained.

Smith continued, sharing details about another problem in the building on Jan. 29. “We had a heat pump in the crawlspace underneath the building that was leaking and not running right. If we had lost that motor, they would have been cold,” Smith said of the business office employees located in that area. “If we lost that pump, we would have lost heat in a third of the school.” Two mechanics focused their efforts on repairing that area of the building.

Smith explained that during this time, he was in communication with the elementary school teacher and advised her that she could safely turn on the heat for a short period. However, she declined due to the smell the heater produced.

Like most schools in the area, Gowanda closed on Jan. 30 and 31 due to cold temperatures. When school resumed on Feb. 1, Smith got another call regarding the classroom, which had not been repaired during the closure, when efforts were focused on snow removal. Regarding the classroom temperature, Smith noted, “They were still getting heat, radiant heating. It did not get below 64 degrees, which is the state regulation.” Because Feb. 1 was a half day, mechanics waited to repair the heater until after students were dismissed.

“If there is a life/safety issue — heat, flood, water coming out of the ceiling — it doesn’t matter if they’re teaching, playing a movie, whatever, my guys will be in there taking care of it. If that doesn’t happen, contact me,” Smith said to the teachers and administrators present at the meeting.

Vogtli thanked Smith for sharing the information. “We get slammed enough, and this is getting to the point of ridiculousness,” Vogtli said of the social media controversy. “I wanted people to know that we’re doing the things that we’re supposed to be doing. Nobody was in harm’s way.”

In other business, the board heard a presentation on a new club for middle school students: NAYO (Native American Youth Organization). Lottie Gill, the Title VI Home School Coordinator, shared the purpose of the club, which is to promote a greater understanding of Native American culture in grades 5 through 8. “This will also make it an easier transition for students if they want to be involved in the high school NAYO,” Gill pointed out.

Goals of the club include community service projects in Gowanda and the Cattaraugus Territory, Earth Day activities, educational presentations and possibly a mural or tile artwork project to be displayed in a high-traffic area of the school.

Board members were intrigued by the proposal. Barb Weston, board member, fondly recalled her membership in NAYO when she was a Gowanda student. “Our NAYO group was huge,” she recalled. “We even had jackets. I think this is a great idea.”

Vogtli agreed and asked if membership was open to all students or only Native American students. Gill confirmed that all students are welcome and encouraged to join the club, which the board was pleased to hear. Gill was approved to lead the new club at Gowanda Middle School.

The next meeting of the Gowanda Central School Board of Education is Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. in the middle school library.