If things go according to plan, Massac County High School students and staff will have a new HVAC system in place just in time to the start of the 2022-2023 school year.

The Massac County Unit 1 Board of Education awarded the project to A&W Plumbing and Heating Inc., of Murphysboro, during its Oct. 25 meeting.

The replacement of the 19-year-old system’s 60-plus units is set for summer 2022, starting at the end of May and finishing Aug. 5, and requires two shifts of work. The district will be using ESSER III funds to cover the $3.5 million project, that also includes the replacement of the drop ceilings, hall lighting, portions of the roof and kitchen hood vents.

“The new units will be more energy efficient and the air quality will be better because they’re putting in a different type of air handling system,” said Superintendent Jason Hayes, noting because the high school “never really shuts down,” the work will impact summer school and sport camps, so those logistics will be decided as the project draws closer.

Hayes said the new system should last 20 years, “so this should set that high school up. We’ve tackled a lot of the health, life, safety issues and the big ticket items with the building. We’ve just have some cosmetics (to address). Structurally, it’s in pretty good shape after this. That’s a building we’re going to hang on to, one way or another, which is one reason we’re putting so much money into it right now.”

Steve Heisner, chairman of the Shawnee Community College board, toured the MCHS vocational wing prior to the meeting and addressed the board, pledging to improve the partnership between Unit 1 and SCC.

“He was unaware of some of the facilities we have. Some of them are being under utilized right now for staffing reasons and because our enrollment is down,” Hayes said. “We talked to him about possibly partnering and using our facility for some night classes and other vocational programming here in Metropolis so either students, former students or community members could do something without driving to (SCC’s main campus in) Ullin. Some of those programs — like automotive, carpentry or those that lead into apprenticeships — can only be held at the (main) campus because of the facilities.”

Hayes noted how valuable such a partnership would be for Massac students.

“Right now, there is a huge demand for every trade — electricians, laborers, automotive. The labor halls are empty. We ran into that with our construction projects,” he said. “We want to keep pushing our kids to college, but at the same time, we want to identify kids who are interested in those vocations and get them set up.”

The board agreed with Heisner’s pledge. Hayes said the MCHS automotive shop was recently upgraded, so “that would be an easy first-starter. We’ve got opportunities here. It’s an option we’re going to explore, and, hopefully, expand on. Right now, you can make a really good living in some of these trades and there is a huge demand. We need to seize the opportunity and provide some training for it.”

During his report, Hayes presented the board with data he has gathered, so far, regarding the district’s declining student enrollment. The board, at its Sept. 27 meeting, directed Hayes to research options in response to the topic.

Haye’s presentation provided district-wide information, going back four to 10 years, on: student enrollment data; per pupil expenditure reports by school; building utility expense reports; internet access fees; landline phone access fees; cleaning/custodial supplies; total building annual cost (without staff); repairs/work items (health, life, safety issues); estimated current staffing; and the retirement pipeline.

Hayes said the goal of the data is “to look at different ways we could save money, if we had to. We may not do anything. … There are some things we won’t save, like bus routes. … It was interesting to look at. I wanted the board to see what it would look like to take any K-6 building out of the equation. Oddly enough, the average cost per year for the three older buildings (Jefferson, Franklin and Unity elementary schools) is very similar — they all hover around $40,000. Of course, the (district’s) buildings with more students cost more. … There are repairs that need to be made at all of our buildings, some more than others, which is something to consider, too.”

Hayes said the retirement pipeline provides the board a different approach in looking at what schools to close, if it comes to that decision. “We don’t want to fire anybody. If we ended up closing a building, where would you get the biggest bang for the buck? Who’s going out you wouldn’t have to replace? There are positions we’ll have to fill and then potentially not need (if we do close a building).”

Hayes did not make any recommendations with the information presented. He noted the Massac County Education Association has formed a committee that is developing recommendations that will be shared with the board.

“We’re trying to present all of the data and let people make their own minds up how this will go,” Hayes said. “Hopefully, we’ll start talking about it. My goal, if we are going to do anything, is to have a decision prior to Christmas, especially for next (school) year. If not, then make a decision for the following (school) year. There are a lot of considerations. It’s not going to be something where everyone jumps on board.”

In other business, the board:

• Approved increasing substitute rates for the remainder of the 2021-2022 school year.

• Amended the 2021-2022 school year calendar, making Nov. 19, Jan. 28 and March 25 half days for students. The last day of school will be May 23 if no emergency days are used. If they are, the last day will be May 31.

• Tabled the practice field work at MCHS until more bids can be obtained.

• Approved the following retirement revisions: Patricia Howell on Dec. 31, 2022; Becky Hall on May 31, 2023; and Lana Windhorst in May 2022.

• Approved the following new employments:

• Department heads are now in place at MCHS. In those positions are: Sally Castleman as the Math Department head; Mandy Greer as the ELA Department head; Joy Suggs as the Science Department head; and Brian Green as the History Department head.

• The elementary school yearbook is now an extra-duty paid position instead of an extra-duty volunteer position. In those positions are: Linda Weatherbee and Tammy Barna at Jefferson; Carrie Neely at Franklin; Payton Parks at Brookport; Debbie Sharp at Unity; and Brittany Weatherford and Tracy Parmer at Metropolis.

• New sponsors at MCHS were also named: Penny Allen for the National Honor Society; Aaron Clark for the German Club; Sally Castleman for the Math Team and Mu Alpha Theta; and Andy Margherio for the Academic Team.

• And, also hired were: Judy Lewis as MCHS personal aide; and Keith Shelton as MCHS assistant girls’ basketball coach.

• Acknowledged the transfer of Summer Smallman to MCHS aide, effective January 2022.

• And, was provided an update on the MCHS eSports Club by sponsor Brock Frazier.

The board’s next meeting is 6:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 22, in the MCHS library.

Massac County students will dismiss at 2 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 23, for Thanksgiving break. Classes resume Monday, Nov. 29.

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