School buildings sustain major infrastructure damage from historic Texas freeze

Education

ROUND ROCK, Texas (KXAN) — School districts across Central Texas are finding out their buildings have sustained major damage from the historic Texas storms that set records for below-freezing days in our area.

School officials from districts across the viewing area say they used Friday to visit campuses and conduct walk throughs.

The Austin Independent School District would not say exactly how many facilities were impacted, but shared that power was fully restored early Friday morning. Custodial and maintenance staff visited campuses to make quick repairs and figure out which campuses will be able to receive students. The district announced late Friday night that in-person schooling would not resume until Monday, March 1, at the earliest.

In the Hays Consolidated Independent School District, nearly half of the campuses had some sort of power outage or damage. A district spokesperson said many campuses do not have running water, a fact that would prevent students from returning. A decision for Hays CISD students will be announced sometime this weekend.

In the Round Rock Independent School District, about half a dozen of its campuses experienced significant water damage. One of which is Title 1 school, Deerpark Middle School.

Principal Jonathan Smith was crushed to think about how his students and families might react to the devastation within the school walls.

“Deerpark has a special place in all of our hearts. And to see it in such a bad place, in terms of the tiles, the water, the smell, it makes you take a step back,” Smith said. “I think that this place really means more than it has in the past, because it’s a safe place for all of us.”

Smith says the sprinkler system froze and exploded at the entrance of the school, sending flood waters into the administrative offices and down the main hallway. There is excess water in the carpets and in between the tiled flooring.

In anticipation of the winter storm, maintenance teams drained exterior cooling towers and exterior central pipes to mitigate exterior freeze exposures to cooling equipment. The sustained loss of electrical power is the overriding cause of the damage we have experienced. Between Sunday and Wednesday, as many as 40 Round Rock ISD facilities experienced prolonged exposure to frigid temperatures. As a result, water systems were subjected to hard freezing throughout the district.

Round Rock Independent School District

In a separate part of the building, a different explosion sent supplies flying across the campus.

“It’s so heartbreaking when you come in and put so many hours and time into doing everything you can to make this a good environment for children and for our students,” Smith said. “When you come in and see the ceiling on the ground and water everywhere, getting buckets of water from other places just to try to clean because the water is cut off, it’s just so challenging.”

Despite the debris, Smith said his school’s motto comes to his mind. All year long, as students battled the issues they faced from the pandemic, they repeated: “Rangers Rising.” Smith says it continues to be a message of hope.

“If they can get through this pandemic, they can get through this ice Armageddon, then there’s nothing they can’t get through. Throughout all of this, we rise.”

Round Rock ISD officials say a decision about school for the next week will be announced on Saturday evening.

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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