Report: Henry Clay High School aging but safe, free of vermin

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In past years, there have been complaints about unbearable heat at Henry Clay High School .

In past years, there have been complaints about unbearable heat at Henry Clay High School .

Herald-Leader File Photo

Though Lexington’s Henry Clay High School is showing signs of age, the facility is safe and has no infestations as of late January, according to a new district report prompted by complaints from stakeholders.

“The facility conditions there are no worse or no better than many other schools in the district given the age of the building,” Fayette Public Schools school board member Tom Jones said after hearing from district chief operating officer Myron Thompson at a Monday meeting.

Henry Clay’s building is about 51 years old and hasn’t been renovated for 20 years, the new report said.

Jones said the information released Monday shows the district has tried to be responsive to environmental complaints brought to officials’ attention.

The report on Henry Clay was compiled at the request of school board members after parents, teachers and students drew attention to a snake and a mouse falling from ceilings in fall 2022. The Herald-Leader has reported on district documents showing additional infestation complaints that included more vermin, flying birds, ants and a raccoon.

Henry Clay High School teacher Nathan Spalding said a baby rat snake fell from his classroom ceiling Wednesday and landed on a desk phone. Spalding said a mouse fell from the ceiling Thursday in another classroom. Henry Clay is dealing with infestation problems, he said. Nathan Spalding Provided by Nathan Spalding

Concerns over mold, missing ceiling tiles, dilapidated furniture and poor heat and ventilation at the building were also raised in more than 350 pages of emails, inspections and other documents obtained by the Herald-Leader under the Kentucky Open Records Act.

“We had some very unique and strange issues with animals and critters and allegations of mold,” Thompson said. But, he added, the building was no better or worse than others of similar age and renovation history in the district.

“All aging facilities have challenges with maintenance and upkeep. While continued infrastructure investments are needed at all schools, the Henry Clay facility is safe,” the district report said.

The report showed that Paul Laurence Dunbar High School hasn’t been renovated in 31 years, and the Fayette preschool center hasn’t ever been renovated in 50 years. Henry Clay is one of 23 facilities that are 20 years past new construction or renovation, the report said.

HVAC, roof problems

The report provided an overview of issues of building comfort and roof leaks as well as complaints related to mold, pests and general aesthetics or cleanliness at Henry Clay.

“The heating, ventilating and air conditioning system at Henry Clay is an antiquated multizone design that reached its useful life,” the report said. “The system frequently broke down and created temperature issues in the fall and spring resulting in multiple hot rooms as well as leaks that occurred throughout the building.”

In March 2022, the Board of Education made a commitment of $8.5 million to replace the old units. The project is finalizing and “will resolve breakdowns and subsequent temperature and leak related issues,” the report said.

For the last seven years, from January 2016 to January 2021, Henry Clay had the second-most heating and air conditioning work-orders submitted for buildings in the district (2,705), behind Lafayette High School (3,422), the report said. In that time period, 46,708 HVAC related work-orders were submitted for district buildings.

For the past seven years, there have been 6,888 roof leak work-orders submitted in the district. Henry Clay accounted for 391 of those work orders behind Lafayette at 519 and ahead of Dunbar at 359, according to the report.

The roof at Henry Clay is 21 years old and leaks during periods of consistent rain. The roof is on a preventative maintenance program, is serviced twice a year and “all leaks are covered excluding drains and skylights,” the report said. This roof is considered in fair condition and needs some wet insulation removed along with aluminum coating to extend its life. That work is planned for the 2023-2024 school year.

Mold allegations

Following parent and staff complaints, mold sampling was conducted by an outside consultant in 40 classrooms in October and November at Henry Clay.

“The results showed that mold was within normal levels consistent for indoor environments and is not impacting air quality at Henry Clay,” the report said.

Mold is a naturally occurring organism and is found in virtually every indoor and outdoor environment, the report said.

“There are no established standards or regulations for what safe levels of mold are in indoor environments, mold is problematic when spore counts rise to extreme levels,” the report said.

As necessary, Fayette County’s school district has external experts conduct air sampling to determine if mold levels are excessive, hazardous or toxic.

Other complaints

Pest control for bed bugs, bees, wasps, flies, lice, roaches, rodents, termites and ticks is necessary in all schools, the report said.

“The district addresses this issue by keeping facilities clean and orderly, controlling food and water sources and sealing cracks and crevices,” the report said.

“In the fall of 2022, there were two very unusual situations at Henry Clay related to a snake and a raccoon resulting in some to say the building is ‘infested’ with animals. This is a mischaracterization,” the report said. “There are no signs of infestation of any kind in this building and a 5 year analysis of the number of pest related work orders shows Henry Clay is on par with other high schools.”

In the past five years, Lafayette had 59 pest related work orders; Tates Creek High (old and new) 53; Henry Clay 49; Dunbar, 38; Douglass, 19; and Bryan Station High, 49.

The district report also noted:

  • Henry Clay shows signs of its age. Ordinary wear and tear along with dust accumulation on HVAC vents and stained ceiling tiles and walls from previous leaks all contribute to the school’s appearance, according to the report. The school custodial staff cleaned and changed ceiling tiles in the fall of 2022. That continued over winter break and a commercial cleaning company was used to deep clean vents, horizontal surfaces, bathrooms and sanitize.
  • The school’s interior was last painted in 2009, the report said. The building is being evaluated for interior and exterior painting and other work to improve its appearance.

In addition to the district report, school district officials provided the Herald-Leader with Lexington-Fayette County health department inspections, including those in September 2022 and March 2022. Both showed Henry Clay received a 94 out of 100. The school has received 90 or above on inspections dating back to 2019.

Thompson said district officials are monitoring conditions in all buildings.

What’s next

The next step will be for school board members to use objective data to determine which district buildings, including Henry Clay, should be modernized. The Kentucky Department of Education will have to approve the decisions. With 70 buildings, the district has an estimated $800 million in unmet facility needs, the report said.

A new Tates Creek High School building just opened in fall 2022. The old building, which had multiple environmental problems, was originally going to be renovated but Kentucky Department of Education officials recommended that a new building would be more cost effective.

Donna Florence, a citizen who has brought several concerns about Henry Clay High School’s building to the school board, spoke again at Monday’s board meeting.

“When are we going to replace Henry Clay High School?,” Florence asked board members. “The conditions at Henry Clay are worse than I’ve ever seen.”

Staff writer Valarie Honeycutt Spears covers K-12 education, social issues and other topics. She is a Lexington native with southeastern Kentucky roots.

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