Raceland-Worthington Ind. replacing 90-year-old school that has served generations, but has required an excess of maintenance; principal says community hates to see it go, but it's time

The Daily Independent, Ashland, Oct. 24, 2017

Longtime school a part of Worthington history
By Mike James

The 90-year-old original structure of Worthington Elementary School stands like a proud dowager a block north of the CSX tracks, propped up by a wing added in the 1970s and a library addition built in 2002.

Having served several generations of students, the school is slated for replacement when the Raceland-Worthington School District completes a new middle school 19 months from now.

Like any vintage building, it has for some time required an excess of maintenance to keep it open, safe and suitable for housing the roughly 225 fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders enrolled there.

The staff hasn’t yet resorted to using confiscated chewing gum to plug cracks, but it takes constant vigilance to mend and patch flaws, keep the antiquated heating system operating and adequately monitor students in its ancient hallways and maze of staircases.

“This school has been a pillar of the community and we hate to see it go, but for the kids’ sake, we need a school to be proud of with all the bells and whistles they need,” said Kyle Russell, principal for three years and a former teacher at Worthington.

An outmoded steam boiler heating system and single-pane windows that keep custodian Jack Bailey busy with his putty knife sealing them against the winter wind keep children warm in the winter — sometimes too warm.

“We’re on the top floor and my room is at the end of the hall, so it all comes to me,” said fifth-grade teacher Lynn Colegrove, who has taught there 22 years and was a Worthington student in her elementary days.

Rooms are heated with radiators that are difficult to regulate. They also generate enough heat that rooms are arranged so children don’t inadvertently bump against them and receive painful burns.

“We’ll spend the winter here with the heat on and the windows open. We dress in layers,” Colegrove said.

Teachers do their best with the heat and Bailey, who has 16 years at Worthington, wrestles regularly with the boilers in the basement, but children sometimes get cranky in uncomfortably hot rooms, Colegrove said.

The stairs are a significant problem because their layout makes it difficult to monitor all her students. “Stairs keep us healthy, but right now, for instance, I have a child on crutches who has to take separate stairs so I can’t keep my eyes on him. It makes you worry,” she said.

She sends the student on a separate route so classmates won’t jostle him and possibly cause a fall.

The district has spent some money in recent years on improvements, including dropped ceilings, ceiling fans and wiring for wi-fi and other technology, Russell said.

He and other staffers repainted two summers ago to brighten up rooms and halls; Bailey strips and rewaxes the dingy brown floor tiles each summer.

One sign of the building’s age is the cast-iron cover where a coal chute once fed fuel to the original heating system.

The 1970’s wing, itself almost an antique, suffers from many of the same shortcomings. Besides classrooms, the wing houses the office complex, which is poorly situated for monitoring the front door, Russell said.

Secure locks, video cameras and a buzzer system ensure adequate security, but an ideal setup would include direct visual contact and a security vestibule, he said.

Worthington is separated by the wide expanse of the CSX railyard from other Raceland schools. Superintendent Larry Coldiron has emphasized that building the new school adjacent to the high school will enhance the campus environment that is his goal for the small independent district.

Until the new school opens, the district will continue to fund necessary fixes, but won’t invest in any more upgrades, Russell said.

Teachers like Colegrove are eager for the move, but will miss the old school. “My kids and my parents and one grandparent went here. When we move out of this building, I’m going to be the one who breaks down,” she said.

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