Winter storms cause massive damage to local schools, disrupt food services as inventory spoils

Education

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Schools across Central Texas are cleaning up the mess left behind by the historic winter freeze. Like homes, these campuses suffered extensive damage from busted pipes and the long-term power outage.

Most districts KXAN spoke to said they were unable to assess the magnitude of the issues until Friday when the weather passed and the roads were travelable. When school officials did finally make entry, many saw widespread problems, mostly related to pipes bursting and water flooding indoors.

At Burnet CISD, the entire auditorium filled with water from a cracked pipe. In the Eanes ISD, school officials pulled out soaked sheet rock and dry wall and laid it outside to be trashed. And in the Hays CISD, a massive drier pumps hot air into the library at Fuentes Elementary School to help prevent mold and mildew.

“Right now, we are okay, because it is fairly cool. But as it gets warmer, that becomes an issue,” said Hays CISD spokesman Tim Savoy. “The preventative measure is to cut that sheet rock out, so we can fan those walls, and dry them out really good.”

Students in the Hays CISD will not return to campus until Wednesday. By then, Savoy said it will be safe for students, teachers and staff to enter.

“We are not going to bring back any students to a facility that is not safe,” Savoy said. “There might be some campuses that have residual drier units that are running, but they are not very loud and won’t be in the way of any classroom activities. It may just be a novelty for kids to see that equipment on campus.”

Austin ISD said it is prioritizing buildings with only minor damage to make those ready for students faster but wouldn’t share how many campuses overall have been affected. Students will not be invited back into the building until Monday, March 1. Students are working remotely beginning Wednesday through Friday.

Following the outage, 15 AISD kitchens are struggling with either broken freezers, no water or spoiled food. The 33 operational food distribution locations passed out food to families on Monday and will again on Thursday.

“We feel extremely lucky. I think with the amount of power outages and alarms we heard, we were expecting a lot more [refrigeration units to be broken],” said Christine Steenport, AISD’s interim director of Food Service and Warehouse Operations. “[Maintenance teams] are working on gathering all that information, making sure there are plumbers on site to fix leaks and identify areas where that help is needed.”

Round Rock ISD is suffering from a similar problem. The food services team is still taking stock, saying campuses experienced “significant loss of food inventory.” Curbside meal service still continued on Monday, but district officials say emergency deliveries will be necessary to keep inventory at suitable levels.

“While we know that our campuses experienced a significant loss of food inventory due to the storm, we are still in the process of working with our campuses to finalize exact numbers,” said Yana Koleva, RRISD’s Food Service director. “We also worked with our food vendors throughout the weekend to arrange deliveries for our campuses tomorrow to replenish food supplies. We hope that with deliveries to have our food supply fully replenished by midweek.”

Most of the districts say they are filing claims with their insurance companies and are actively doing walk-throughs with insurance adjusters.

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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