Pictured above: Workers make repairs and repaint the Mehlville School District pool. Photo courtesy of the Mehlville School District.
By Erin Achenbach, Staff Reporter
with Gloria Lloyd, News Editor
Three years after voters in the Mehlville School District approved Proposition R, this summer was busy for the Mehlville School District as it upgraded various facilities during 2018 summer capital projects funded by the 49-cent tax-rate increase.
Some of the roughly $3.1 million in capital improvements included a new gym floor at Mehlville High School, new football turf at Oakville High School and roof replacements and HVAC replacements at Oakville High School, Trautwein Elementary, Washington Middle School and Wohlwend Elementary.
Funding streams for some of these capital projects came from Proposition R for Restore, a 49-cent tax-rate increase approved in November 2015, and Proposition A for AC, a temporary 4-cent no-tax-rate increase for tax years 2016 through 2025, approved by voters in April 2016.
Superintendent Chris Gaines said the slate of summer projects was “nothing really exciting other than this is what we said we were going to do” with Prop R and Prop A. “It really just boils down to laying out the plan and sticking to the plan.”
In a facilities survey the district conducted last year between Thanksgiving and Christmas, respondents indicated that HVAC was at the top of their list of priorities, followed by parking.
The projects also included routine maintenance that improves parking lots. Asphalt was removed and replaced at Blades Elementary, Washington Middle School, Mosaic Elementary and Beasley Elementary.
An additional 11 schools had their asphalt sealed and striped.
At Mehlville High School, nine classrooms had ceiling replacements with HVAC replacements, including new drop ceilings with LED light fixtures with occupancy/vacancy sensors. Asbestos glue pucks had to be abated in eight of the classrooms before starting the ceiling replacement project.
Other smaller projects from the summer included five-year pool maintenance work that included filter maintenance for the pool, which serves the district but is at Mehlville High School. The inside of the pool was also repainted, as well as the shower walls and structural beams. Some of the floor drain piping in the boiler room was repaired.
All the projects were approved unanimously by the Board of Education, primarily in February and March.
A major part of the summer projects, nearly $1.7 million, went toward replacing some of the HVAC systems at both high schools, Oakville High and Mehlville High. The district took the lowest qualified bid.
At the time the board unanimously approved those projects Feb. 8, student board member Demi Elrod, then a senior at OHS, noted that she saw a lot of students in her classes with blankets because the rooms were constantly cold.
The improvement project mostly revolved around OHS. Classrooms at Oakville High School got new ceilings to replace their original 1970-era ceilings.
To finish the work, the district had to add asbestos abatement to the bid to get companies to agree to do the job.
Gaines went back to the board in March to request that the Oakville High project be upgraded to include new control systems so that the district can remotely monitor humidity and carbon dioxide levels along with temperature levels in the eight rooms that got new ceilings.
“We did that for two reasons — 1. HVAC is such an issue and 2. we get such a monster Ameren rebate on it that it looks like it’s a big price tag, and it’s a third of what it is,” Gaines said.
The $323,000 project is estimated to cost the district only $106,000 after a $217,000 rebate from Ameren.
The district has run into issues in the past with setting room temperatures higher to save money, but humidity builds up in rooms, causing mold issues such as those seen in the choir rooms in the Mehlville High School basement where uniforms were stored.
“We could set the temperature at 82 (degrees), pick a number, and set the humidity level so that even if it is 82, once the humidity level creeps up it’ll start pulling moisture out of there,” Gaines said of the monitors.
The district also made changes to the Washington Middle kitchen in order to pass the St. Louis County health inspection.
The health code requires smooth counters, but the middle school had textured counters. The county gave the district time to upgrade the kitchen, and the district reached that limit this year.
The fiberglass liner of the pool at Mehlville High School developed a hole in it last year that started out the size of a quarter and grew larger and larger. Although the pool wasn’t draining much water, the district shut it down for a week when water-polo season ended to drain it, fix the hole, work on the pump room and fill the pool up again.
The pool is in constant use year round from students, members of the community and even Gaines, who swims in it in the morning before heading to Central Office.
But it’s ancient by pool standards, and has been shut down for extended periods for repairs in the past.
“Here’s what I tell people about that pool — that pool was state-of-the-art when it was built in 1973,” Gaines said. “As state-of-the-art as your home that was built in 1973…. It’s old for somebody who lived in the Renaissance, probably old for a Founding Father.”
Long term, Gaines said, “I question how long we can continue to fix it.”