Lynn Superintendent responds to complaints about lack of heat at Sewell-Anderson Elementary School

LYNN — The boiler replacement at Sewell-Anderson Elementary School has been completed after parents were left steaming two weeks ago when a lack of heat in the building didn’t lead to school being canceled.

Students at Sewell-Anderson didn’t get much relief from the frigid temperatures when boiler issues left some areas of the school without heat for two days.

When parents caught wind of the situation — school officials reported some areas of the school were as cold as 58 degrees — the general feeling from many was that school should have been canceled on the second day. Some parents posted their concerns on social media and opted to keep their kids home from school despite the decision administrative officials made not to cancel.

An inadequate boiler system at the school meant there were seven boilers, but only three were functioning. The rest needed to be replaced. Boiler replacement started two weeks ago and was completed by the city’s Inspectional Services Department (ISD) on Saturday.

Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler said the boiler issues at the school were long-standing, with efforts made to repair and replace parts over the years. Two weeks ago marked the breaking point.

He said the decision to not cancel school was not made lightly. There’s no higher priority than the safety of the district’s students, he said, but second is protecting the sanctity of the school day.

“If I can get them there safely and get them to a space that’s comfortable to learn, than I’m going to do that,” Tutwiler said. “Everyone should know that safety is something that we take extremely seriously. So, that is the first conversation we have relative to a school closure. Once it is agreed that it is safe, the next one is, is it a conducive environment for learning?

“If there is a quick solution to make it so, then I am always going to protect my commitment to student learning.”

Although some areas of the school were cold, Tutwiler said there were warm spots for students to learn in while ISD worked to provide a temporary and long-term fix.

Temperatures at Sewell-Anderson ranged from 58 degrees at the front of the building to 66 degrees and warmer toward the back of the building. The district’s policy on lack of heat says school has to be ordered dismissed if a temperature of 60 degrees cannot be maintained in the building.

There is also no protocol in place for delaying school, he said, as the last delayed opening in the Lynn Public Schools was more than 20 years ago. Tutwiler said a plan is being working on to develop a protocol.

It’s either been cancel or stay open in the district’s schools, due to scenarios that would make a delayed opening challenging. School yards are used as parking lots during snow emergencies and students, for the most part, don’t get bussed to but rather walk or get driven to school as the city has 100 percent neighborhood schools, according to the superintendent.

Sewell-Anderson is not the only school that has had heating issues in the district, a challenge that Tutwiler attributes to having a number of 100-year-old school buildings. He’s not aware of an issue that has been as serious as the one at Sewell-Anderson, but there are a number of schools that have rooms with temperature-control problems.

For example, Callahan Elementary School has recently had rooms that were cold, or dipped below what would be considered normal for heat, he said.

“It’s not a surprise to me that from time to time, there are issues that need attention related to the heating,” Tutwiler said. “It’s important that the city has to work within the budget and (determine) what can be done to address the problems in a way that students and teachers can work comfortably within the building in a school day.”

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