Fort Stewart, GA – Kathy Jones knew what to look for when she walked into Brittin Elementary School to check out the $4 million renovation. If she saw it, she would feel better about her fifth-grade daughter returning to a building that made her sick last year. “We can tell by the floor,” Jones said. “If the floor’s not different, we have a problem.” Well, the floor is different. So are the ceilings, walls and air-conditioning system.
“I knew if they only replaced the HVAC system, it would be an issue,” she said. “To come here and see they renovated from floor to ceiling, I’m impressed.” This week, construction workers finished the first phase of renovations in the wing that houses administrative offices, the cafeteria, library, multi-purpose room and some classrooms. The renovations were made after teachers and students complained last year of various illnesses they attributed to poor air quality in the building. J.A. Jones Construction hustled to finish the first phase this summer.
Workers combined to put in 22,000 hours in 60 days; they worked two shifts a day, weekends and holidays, said Gordon Dunn of the Marietta-based company. Still, the renovations delayed the school system’s start date by a week. Work continues on two other wings in the school. Those phases should be finished in October, said Principal Sherry Templeton. Meanwhile, the school’s fourth, fifth- and sixth-graders will start the year in a youth center on post, she said. “As parents and teachers we’re focused on can we start school and does it look good?” Templeton said.
“This morning, we can say ‘yes, we can start school’ and ‘yes, it looks good.'” Problems surfaced last October as teachers and students complained about congestion, rashes and other ailments. The school, which was built in 1982, had a closed air conditioning system so no fresh air was pumped into the building. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, teachers were told to keep windows and doors closed, further cutting off fresh air. School officials ordered an environmental study on the building. However, it found no contaminates in the building other than slightly high levels of formaldehyde. Still, parents, faculty and staff created an uproar, forcing the school system to move classes out of the building and the Department of Defense Elementary Schools to rush money to Brittin.
The money paid for a new heating and air conditioning system where fresh-air is used and every classroom has a thermostat. Construction workers ripped carpet out of classrooms and laid new tiles there and in hallways. They also lowered the ceiling and installed new acoustical ceiling tiles and lighting. A new paint job included an anti-mold and mildew solution, said Col. Roger Gerber, commander of the Army Corps of Engineers in Savannah. “If anybody’s disappointed in this project, it will be some of our young folks who were looking for a longer vacation,” he said. Army commanders, school officials and construction workers cheered the renovations on Friday as a solution to the health problems. Even though they were impressed with the renovations, some parents, teachers and staff were hesitant to reach those conclusions on Friday.
Jones doesn’t want her fifth-grader, Keyyanna, to go through another year of red, itchy eyes. Jones and Tammie Heaton, president of the Fort Stewart Educational Support Association, used the phrase “hoping and praying” when talking about the renovations solving the problem. “We’ll see, won’t we?” Heaton said.
ABOUT SCHOOL ON FORT STEWART
Children who live on Fort Stewart attend Department of Defense schools from preschool through the sixth grade. The schools are Brittin Elementary and Diamond Elementary, and about 1,800 students attend them. After sixth grade, students attend school in Liberty County. Classes on Fort Stewart begin Aug. 19. That’s a week later than planned due to renovations at Brittin. The first phase was finished this week but work will continue through October, said Principal Sherry Templeton. Because of the work, kindergartners through second graders will attend classes in the remodeled section of Brittin.
Third grade classes will be located in new trailers behind the main building, and fourth through sixth grade classes will be held in the Fort Stewart Youth Center. Everyone will move into regular classrooms when work is complete, she said.