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Schools under construction this summer

Tim Croft

Graduation exercises the next couple of days will mark the end of what remained of the school year but the school work continues this summer for the district.

Roofing projects at both junior-senior high schools will likely be completed within the next month and a project to overhaul heating and air conditioning systems in both buildings is moving on track.

The Gulf County School Board approved on Tuesday during its regular meeting a change order for the replacement of the track at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School while the work continues on a new track at Port St. Joe Jr./Sr. High School.

All of it in line with Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton’s prediction that schools will resume in August as scheduled for a new school year.

“We are going to be open in August,” Norton said. “We will be responsible and adhere to the guidelines.”

Norton noted the county is already in the second phase of the governor’s three-phase approach to re-opening.

At his recommendation, the committee charged with drafting the 2020-2021 school year’s calendar, which has completed its work, will meet with senior district staff next week.

And Norton said the board should plan on a future workshop to discuss plans for opening schools for the next year.

The Johnson Controls’ $6 million project to overhaul HVAC systems at both junior-senior high schools remains within its timeline, despite the pandemic, said project manager Justin Newman.

Engineering and design has been completed and much of the equipment has been received and is ready to be installed, he said.

Demolition and prep work is underway.

“(The closure of schools) has really worked out excellent,” Newman said. “We are right on track.”

The design team has already chosen the corridors for are to enter the building through the chilling system with each individual space, i.e. classroom, having its own controls to heat or cool.

Of significant importance, Newman noted that Johnson Controls and the equipment the company will use employs technology, bipolar ionization, which will address contaminants, such as COVID-19, in the air.

“That is a tremendous benefit while we are planning to reopen schools,” Norton said.

Another major task, in addition to “creating systems that interact and compliment each other” is to seal the buildings, closing areas where air escapes or enters.

“If we are doing anything to clean the air or preventing air from coming in … this is a solution that can address outside air, preventing its introduction or reducing its contamination,” Newman said.

Lunch, distance learning programs

The district’s lunch program, put in place when schools were closed by the state, will end today.

Norton and the board thanked all those who helped in making it possible to feed nearly 1,000 students a day along bus routes or at the elementary schools.

“These people are to be celebrating, the lunchroom workers, the paraprofessionals, the bus drivers, everyone who helped,” Norton said.

“Also, our teachers have done an exceptional job with embracing distance learning and reaching out to their students.”