News Column

Students heading back to schools that workers have spent summer getting ready

August 25, 2014

By Caitlin Perrone, The Eagle, Bryan, Texas

Aug. 25--Some of the roughly 28,000 public school students in Brazos County returning to the classroom today may be a little grumpy about saying goodbye to summer, but they should consider this: Their teachers have been back for a week, and even before then there were scores of behind-the-scene workers cleaning up the buildings, tidying the landscape, putting finishing touches on menus and others practicing bus routes.

Also, most of their friends in private schools from the region already have homework since they went back earlier this month.

Some employees working in technology, facilities, nutrition and maintenance departments in both public districts never left for the summer break. David Hutchison, director of technology for College Station, said the reason is simple: That's often the best time to do routine maintenance and to complete larger projects, such as moving computers and installing new software, or checking on projectors, printers, scanners, smart boards and the interactive white boards.

"We make sure everything's up to snuff so that when they walk in Monday morning, everything's working as it should," he said of the nearly 12,000 or so students.

Of course, his department has had much to do. The district designated $6.1 million for technology upgrades in the $83.5 million bond election that passed in November. Among those upgrades: 1,500 new computers. Workers alao installed security cameras at Southwood Valley, South Knoll, Pebble Creek and Rock Prairie, and security vestibules at A&M Consolidated Middle School, College Station Middle School, Cyprus Grove Intermediate and Southwood Valley Elementary. The last one to be installed, an entrance at Pebble Creek, should be completed in October, said Jon Hall, the director of facilities with the district.

Many kitchens in both districts have been busy feeding students during the summer months, so have only had a few free weeks to complete a handful of projects, according to Sundy Fryrear, the director of school nutrition services in Bryan.

Her department has been planning for this school year's menu for more than a year, readying to implement new federal regulations on healthy foods.

"Before the end of last school year, we did student taste tests at several schools to determine which products were most popular among our students," Fryrear wrote in an email. "Once we determine student likes, then we begin preparing our menus for the upcoming school year."

Aside from prepping menus and hiring staff, the summer time also was used for kitchen repairs. The Bryan district replaced a walk-in freezer, purchased four new dish machines, 12 sets of ovens, installed new serving lines, purchased new refrigerated equipment, and installed keypads at half of the schools.

Fryrear said the district plans to serve 5,000 breakfasts on the first day of school, and she expects that number to increase by the second week.

About half of the nearly 16,000 students in Bryan are expected to take the bus to and from school. The district uses about 100 buses each day, said Jack Mann, the assistant director of transportation in the district.

And those buses have been running practice routes since Thursday. Since the end of the last school year, administrators have been re-evaluating the student load on all of the routes, because student populations often change from year to year.

"We attempt to ensure that each bus route for a given school has a fairly equal student load," Mann wrote in an email. "This helps us to avoid dangerous situations such as overloads and minimize 'light' loads, which are not the best use of taxpayer money."

The vehicles have been cleaned, checked for safety and given maintenance updates, he said.

When some students enter their campus Monday, they might look different than when they left in the spring. Rock Prairie Elementary received new energy efficient windows and bricks over the past few months, and the baseball fields at A&M Consolidated High School are about halfway through the construction process, Hall said.

"It's been quite an effort over the summer, but we're coming in really clean with everything," he said. "I think Monday's going to be really good as we start school."


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Source: Eagle (Bryan, TX)

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