ARGENTA — Monday was the first time a hot day did not mean early dismissal at Argenta-Oreana schools.
Thanks to facility upgrades that are “99 percent complete,” said Superintendent Damian Jones, students and teachers at the elementary, middle and high schools put in a full day in air-conditioned comfort.
According to the National Weather Service in Lincoln, temperatures reached into the lower 90s on Monday, with heat indices peaking between 100 and 110 degrees. Many Central Illinois schools dismissed early due to the weather.
Jones said he overheard one teacher telling another that she'd been teased by a friend who teaches in a school without air-conditioning that she was going home early, while the Argenta-Oreana teacher was not.
“She said, 'The air-conditioning is worth it,'” Jones said.
The upgrades that brought air-conditioning to the district's schools were at the top of the list when the board and administration set their goals in February 2015, Jones said, and cost $2.7 million of the $5.8 million total for all the upgrades.
“We air-conditioned the sixth- and seventh-grade wing of the junior high, and Kimler Gymnasium at the high school, so now this facility is 100 percent air-conditioned,” Jones said. “At the elementary school (in Oreana), the only part that was air-conditioned prior to this summer was the third grade/pre-K wing, so now we've air-conditioned the rest of that building.”
When the high school was finished in 2006, high school Principal Sean German said, everything that was new construction was air-conditioned, but that didn't include Kimler or the older portion of the middle school. Holding graduation ceremonies in late spring in Kimler was sometimes very uncomfortable, but it won't be any longer.
The most visible upgrade is to the athletic facilities, however. The athletic field, which is used for football, soccer, baseball, softball, marching band practice and physical education, has a new artificial turf surface and is surrounded by an eight-lane all-weather track.
“I run on it in the morning,” board member Dan Miller said. “It's so much better than asphalt. Easier on the knees.”
Now, Jones said, the students don't have to get muddy practicing and don't have to wait long after a rain to go out on the field.
“They want to take their shoes off and walk on it,” he said with a chuckle.
Board member Todd Armstrong said he hopes the entire district will be proud of the schools.
"It's nice for us," he said. "But we did this for the kids."
A feature of the field that is particularly nice, German said, is that the markings for soccer, baseball and softball are embedded into the design. Unless you're looking for them, they're not obvious and not distracting, but with the bases laid out at the proper distance and marked into the turf, the teams can practice and play on that field, if necessary, without even having to carry the bags out for bases.
Friday night's first home football game will be a celebration and a chance for the community to get a close look at the field. The public can walk on the turf between 5:30 and 6 p.m. Friday, just ahead of the grand opening ceremony and tailgate party, which begin at 6:30 p.m.
“We only had to make three rules (to protect the turf),” Jones said. “No high heels, no lawn chairs and no sunflower seeds.”
The field is low maintenance, requiring an occasional raking with specialized tools to keep the turf in good shape after use. Every three to five years, Byrne and Jones Construction, the company that installed it, will have to do major maintenance.
The weight room has had a significant upgrade, too. The visitors' side of the field is also all concrete.
“We want to be good hosts,” Jones said. “Nobody will have to walk in mud.”
Along with the air-conditioning and new field and track, the high school has a new concession and restroom facility at the entrance to the field, with a new sign donated by 4MC Corp. The elementary has a new concession/storage facility in Oreana, where the junior and senior high school softball teams play and a new concrete bus drive.
Mike Williams, athletics director and assistant high school principal, said none of it would have been possible without the community passing a referendum that provided the funds for the high school originally and the Macon County 1 percent sales tax increase in 2010 that goes to school facilities.
The original bonds have been paid off to the point that the district was able to borrow enough to do the upgrades, German said.
“We did it without raising taxes,” Jones said. “In fact, property taxes were slightly lower this year.”
“We can't thank the community enough for its support,” German said.