By Andy Ross
Killeen Daily Herald
Although Killeen Independent School District officials acknowledged this week the air conditioner in the cafeteria kitchen of Eastern Hills Middle School has been defunct for weeks, school officials are attributing a broken thermometer to recent reports of kitchen temperatures climbing far past 100 degrees.
Steve Murphy, director for school nutrition at KISD, said Tuesday that the air conditioning was reported as broken on Sept. 1 and a necessary replacement piece ordered two days later. The piece has yet to arrive but is expected later this week.
In the meantime, the nutrition director said, the kitchen thermometer has been changed to more accurately reflect temperatures.
"It was reading way over 100 degrees, and we brought in a new one and it was reading 80 or 82 degrees," Murphy said Tuesday. "We took care of that inoperative thermometer and brought them that new one yesterday."
Yet according to a kitchen worker and the family member of another employee, who both wished to remain anonymous, the conditions have been hot to the point of dangerous since a week before the air conditioning part was initially ordered.
"They just have fans," said the employee's family member when interviewed on Monday. "They keep telling them they are waiting for the part, but still, why are you waiting three weeks? People can fall down with heat stroke. Temperatures in a kitchen get pretty hot."
Another cafeteria kitchen employee at the middle school said the eight workers have been sweating heavily through their shifts since school started on Aug. 23.
"Some of us have heart conditions and high blood pressure," said the employee, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity. "It's been like this for a while, since the first day of school, and it's not too healthy."
Asked about the discrepancies on the amount of time the kitchen has been lacking air conditioning, and Murphy reiterated the Sept. 1 date.
"That's not correct," Murphy said, referencing claims the air conditioning was reported defunct in August. "Sept. 1 was when the work order came in from the manager."
Murphy said the only complaints he has heard about hot working conditions in the kitchen came in the aftermath of last week's storm system that temporarily halted the school's entire air conditioning from functioning.
Max Cleaver, executive director of facilities services at KISD, confirmed that the air conditioning part was ordered on Sept. 3 and said everything possible is being done to expedite returning cooler conditions to the kitchen.
"We try to get work orders done as quickly as possible," Cleaver said. "If there is a delay it's generally because there is a part not available locally. But we will fix it as quickly as possible. We're definitely not delaying it. It's obviously really hot in there. I'm not doubting it."
Contact Andy Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7547. Follow him on Twitter at KDHeducation.