Keller, Northwest districts deal with ice storm’s aftermath

12/17/2013 9:53 AM

12/17/2013 9:54 AM

Keller and Northwest school district officials spent last week cleaning up from the ice storm that closed schools for three days and assessing their procedures.

Area superintendents, including Keller’s Randy Reid and Northwest’s Karen Rue, were part of a text message group exchanging information about closings.

Closing schools on Friday, Dec. 6, and Monday, Dec. 9, was a fairly easy decision while Tuesday, Dec. 10, was “definitely the most difficult day,” Reid said. Fort Worth and Birdville school districts went back on a two-hour delay while other northeast Tarrant districts remained closed.

Both districts had teams driving roads on Dec. 9 to determine if school could resume the following day.

District staff members also looked at ice on sidewalks, campus pick-up and drop-off loops and parking lots.

Reid said, “The big problem was that temperatures barely got above freezing and the sun was not coming out.”

Reid did a lot of driving himself, going by schools to look for potential problems. He noted significant ice build ups around parking lots, walkways and adjacent roads.

Transportation department staff members tried to do a test run with a school bus Monday at Fossil Ridge and couldn’t make it out of the icy parking lot.

No major events in Northwest were put on ice. The December school board meeting was pushed back a week to Dec. 16, and the SAT tests scheduled for Dec. 7 at Steele Accelerated and Northwest high schools were postponed until Saturday, Dec. 21.

The district has a 234-square-mile footprint that stretches across portions of Wise, Denton and Tarrant counties. For the most part, all communities in the district were similarly impacted by the weather conditions, said Adam Bennett, NISD spokesman.

“The ice was about the same throughout the district,” Bennett said. “However, the impact in the rural areas seemed to last longer due to smaller traffic flow on the side roads.”

Maintenance and operations crews for both districts were working hard Monday and Tuesday to clear ice around buildings.

Hudson Huff, KISD director of planning and construction, said staff members used shovels and front end loaders on tractors to remove the worst of the ice.

“Removing that amount of ice without the help of Mother Nature takes a lot of time,” Huff said.

Workers also tried to get ice off sloped roofs or block off areas where ice was falling once temperatures rose above freezing. Ice sliding off the roof at Friendship Elementary School caused an awning outside of the gym to collapse during school hours Wednesday morning.

Huff said that no one was nearby when it failed. Workers removed the damaged pieces and a structural engineer was to inspect a few similar awnings.

Huff said there was also significant damage to gutters and some equipment due to falling ice.

Bennett said that Northwest had no big issues with falling ice due to flat roof designs. Crews removed ice from a few sloped entrance awnings prior to the resumption of classes. Burst pipes in a field on school property was the worst of the damage.

Impact on classes

Northwest will make up classes on Feb. 17 and April 18 and apply for a waiver from the Texas Education Agency to not have to make up the third day, Bennett said. If the TEA were to reject the waiver, the district would be in session on Jan.20, Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Keller will have school on bad weather make-up dates April 18 and June 6. Reid said that Keller would likely request a waiver for the third day.

Teachers will be working hard to make up for lost time in the curriculum.

Reid said, “We lost three days in a period when teachers usually try to hit it hard between Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

For high school students, the last six weeks of the semester had just started and finals are set for Jan. 22-24.

Reid said most educators in the district are veterans who have had to make up for missed days in the past.

The forecasted ice storm prompted a lot of activity before it arrived.

Huff said that KISD operations staff members had done a lot of work in preparing for the storm, ordering extra ice melting compound, sand and salt.

Officials from both districts said they will hold debriefings with key personnel to determine if any changes to bad weather procedures need to be made.

Bennett said NISD officials would look at their response and see if they need to add equipment or supplies. Since such ice storms are infrequent, they need to determine if those purchases are cost effective.

Reid said, “The scariest part is it’s only December and this is projected to be a wet and cold winter. I hope that’s not the case.”

Correspondent Mark Wright contributed to this report.

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