Schools hurry to keep pupils warm

Richmond County school officials responded to the coldest weather this season as students returned from Christmas break Monday morning -- patching windows, fixing pipes and coaxing balky buses to start.

"We're in our cold weather plan," said school facilities and maintenance director Benton Starks.

For the next several days, maintenance crews will come to work before students arrive in case more problems arise as lows in the teens and 20s persist into the weekend.

Monday morning's low of 17 was the lowest so far this winter and was just three degrees above the record set in Augusta in 1950, said Hunter Coleman, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in West Columbia, S.C.

The low Monday night and this morning was predicted to dip to 19. The record was 13 set in 1955, he said. Mr. Coleman said the low will fall to the upper teens tonight, around 20 Wednesday night, in the mid-20s Thursday night and again to the teens by the weekend.

To block Monday's chill, 158 broken windows at Copeland Elementary School had been covered with plastic.

"Everything ran smoothly this morning," said Margaret Guidry, Copeland's principal.

The windows smashed by vandals sometime around Christmas Eve at the Jackson Road school should be repaired by the end of this week, officials said. The damage totals $16,000.

On Monday, Richmond County sheriff's Investigator Shawn Newsome said he was still trying to determine whether there was video surveillance of the Copeland incident.

He said police plan to further question two juveniles -- ages 9 and 13 -- who were seen walking through the parking lot carrying metal poles. They've denied involvement but are considered "a point of interest," Investigator Newsome said.

A few Richmond County buses needed their batteries jumped, and water that had been cut off to some portables at Richmond County schools before the holiday break was left that way for fear of pipes breaking. Mr. Starks said the water probably would not be turned back on as long as the cold lasts.

Most portables with water lines and bathrooms house special education or early elementary classes.

Columbia County schools were closed Monday and will reopen today. Aiken County schools reopened Monday, but Deputy Superintendent David Caver said the cold posed no major problems there.

Staff Writer Julia Sellers contributed to this article.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 828-3851 or preston.sparks@augustachronicle.com

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