White Station High School senior Leeya Alperin spent Friday at home working on decorations for an upcoming event. She should have been at school but White Station was closed again for heating problems.
"On Tuesday I had a test. My teacher had to give me his gloves so I could finish a test. My fingers were frozen,” she said.
Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson doesn’t shy away from addressing the issue, saying it’s unacceptable, but hoping it’s a wake-up call.
"White Station and six or seven other buildings where our boilers and equipment are just so old. We have boilers that are 60 to 70 years old when their life is usually 25 to 30 years," Hopson said.
He says the district needs to address $550 million worth of maintenance costs, including these HVAC problems, but they have to find the money to do it.
And while the county commission is cooperating, Hopson and board members say they need more.
"Now the city proudly says they’re out of the education business and I get that," Hopson said. "But at the end of the day these buildings are in the middle of inner-city Memphis. At the end of the day these kids are our kids.”
School board chair Shante Avant said county commissioners are well aware of the problems.
"This is something that’s been a continual conversation with our county commissioners," Avant said. "This isn’t something they’re out of the loop about.”
Another issue, Hopson said, is that the district is too big.
He says he could easily close 80 schools and replace them with 20 new ones.
"What’s happened in Memphis over the years is the population shifted east, we built out there, but we didn’t do the corresponding closing of the facilities where the kids weren’t," he said. "Absolutely our footprint is way too big.”
For seniors like Leeya, they’ll keep having to make due with the conditions inside their school.
She just hopes the district can come up with some improvements for students in the future.