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SOC protest prompts officials to address conditions

Special to The Dallas Examiner | 12/14/2015, 9:56 a.m.
In response to a student walkout on Monday at 2:55 p.m. at South Oak Cliff High School, Dallas Independent School ...
Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa addressed concerns about the condition of the school during a scheduled meeting at South Oak Cliff High School on Monday. The Dallas Examiner screenshot

Special to The Dallas Examiner

In response to a student walkout on Monday at 2:55 p.m. at South Oak Cliff High School, Dallas Independent School District administrators talked briefly to students, parents and community members on campus that evening about the condition of the building – which includes heating/air conditioning, a leaky roof and a gas leak.

During the afternoon walkout, students held signs that stated “Too many leaks to fix! Build us a new school!” “Fix this now!” “Our Schools Matter! Build us a new school!” and “Where is Lew.”

Dr. Lew Blackburn has been the District 5 board trustee since 2011. His term expires in 2016.

The meeting was a previously scheduled parent and community roundtable about student achievement that was already scheduled for the evening. During a brief part of the meeting, Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa addressed concerns and answered questions about what steps will be taken to continue providing a healthy and safe learning environment.

“We’ve taken the matter very seriously. The board members have been in touch with us about specific issues. And so, we had staff here to hear everybody’s concerns,” stated Hinojosa during a HUB interview that evening.

Hinojosa returned as Dallas ISD superintendent this year after having resigned from the district in 2011.

“Let me be very clear with the public and everyone else, we would not be in this building if the appropriate officials did not determine it was safe for us to do it,” he continued. “It doesn’t look good. I understand why people are upset, but … safety is our number one priority. We will continue to monitor that. If things become unsafe we will take immediate action to remove the students and move them somewhere else.”

However, the students stated they were tired of the extreme discomfort in an environment that they are expected to learn and take tests, as well as having concerns about safety. More specifically, students have complained of warmer-than-normal temperatures in classrooms – with at least five of the school’s 80 classrooms reported to having experienced 80-degree temperatures during class.

Dallas ISD Construction Services is overseeing a complete overhaul of the schools heating and air conditioning system and attributes the current issues to ongoing testing of the school’s recently upgraded HVAC system.

Dallas ISD administrators say the project, which began this spring, is on schedule to be completed in February. With school in session, contractors are working around students’ schedules to avoid interruptions to instruction, which has created a lengthier timeline for completion.

The upgrade involves a conversion from a steam-based system to a hydronic system and includes removing and replacing steam radiators, completing the digital controls system, testing and balancing, and installation of ceiling tiles in building corridors. The new system is said to be more cost-effective and more energy-efficient.

Crews have worked overnight and on weekends and are scheduled to continue that work during the two weeks this month that classes are not in session due to winter break. The $3.8 million project is being funded by Qualified School Construction Bonds which are paying for similar improvements at schools across the district.

The $1.6 billion bond approved by voters in November includes a minimum of $10.7 million in improvements at SOC including a new roof, plumbing repairs, and building amendments to support career and technology and arts programs, according to Dallas ISD officials. Yet, some parents and community members feel that won’t be enough to make the necessary renovations to the campus.