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Decatur City Schools did not include irrigation systems for the new Banks-Caddell and renovated Leon Sheffield and Benjamin Davis elementary schools.
Daily photo by Jonathan Palmer
Decatur City Schools did not include irrigation systems for the new Banks-Caddell and renovated Leon Sheffield and Benjamin Davis elementary schools.

Maintenance worker says most schools donít have irrigation for schools

By Bayne Hughes ∑ 340-2432

Decatur City Schools spent $117,000 last year on landscaping and plants for a new school and two renovated schools, but didn't include irrigation systems to protect these investments.

Decatur followed a general rule, however, as most school systems do not include irrigation systems when they build or renovate a school. The city opened a new school, Banks-Caddell, and re-opened renovated Leon Sheffield and Benjamin Davis elementary schools last August.

And, even if any of the schools had an irrigation system, Steve Page, who works grounds and landscaping for the schools' maintenance department, said he isn't sure that would help prevent plant loss.

Page said the school system tries to wait until April 15 before it turns on irrigation systems. He said the system has to run the water continuously if the systems are on to keep the pipes from freezing when they get a cold snap like the one last weekend. Temperatures dropped into the lower 20s.

"I'm checking our ball fields now to make sure we haven't had any cracked pipes," Page said.

Maintenance Director Bruce Friday said only a few Decatur schools have irrigation systems. Cedar Ridge Middle School has the largest system. Austinville and Frances Nungester elementary schools have small outdoor systems that their PTAs bought for their flowerbeds.

"There's just too much maintenance," Friday said. "The kids and lawn mowers break the sprinkler heads, and there's too much vandalism. Unless there's a drought, the trees and shrubs are usually OK, and it's all we can do to keep the grass mowed."

Bruce Kimbrell, director of maintenance and transportation for Morgan County Schools, said his system did not include irrigation systems at West Morgan Elementary, Eva School, Cotaco Junior High building or Priceville Elementary, all of which were new schools in recent years.

Limestone County Superintendent Barry Carroll said two new schools, Creekside (2000) and Cedar Hill (2003) elementaries, do not have irrigation systems.

Kimbrell and Carroll agreed with Friday that installation and maintenance costs keep school systems from installing irrigation systems. Carroll said athletic booster clubs usually pay for ball fields' irrigation systems that are required because of heavy use.

Carroll said there's also a perception issue. Some people see this as wasting tax money that could be used in the classroom.

"It's just difficult to justify running water to keep a lawn looking nice," Carroll said.

Decatur Superintendent Sam Houston said the school system tries to use hardy plants that can withstand the weather extremes.

In his Auburn University landscaping classes, Page said he learned to expect to lose about 10 percent of plants on a new job. While he had not checked the plants at the three sites Monday, he believes they are holding up well considering the conditions.

A quick check Monday afternoon showed Page's expectations were holding. Banks-Caddell had three or four bushes along the bus drive off Second Avenue that appeared dead or nearly dead.

Leon Sheffield and Benjamin Davis appeared to be in good shape. Leon Sheffield had a couple of leafless trees, but Page said that's not unexpected after a cold snap. Two large crepe myrtles did not handle the cold well. Page said they would come back later after scraping off the dead material.

"The cold combined with the drought make it particularly hard, but it's too early to panic," Page said. "I think we'll be Ok."

Friday said the school system has a one-year guarantee from the landscapers on the three projects.

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