May 13, 2014

Copper, air conditioning thieves target East St. Louis schools

Four East St. Louis schools have operated without air conditioning since Friday because of mechanical problems or stolen parts.

Mason Clark Middle School, Lincoln Middle School, Officer Elementary School and the Vivian D. Adams Early Childhood Center were affected. The district plans to have working units in a couple weeks.

Beth Shepperd, a spokeswoman for East St. Louis School District 189, said Officer Elementary had mechanical problems with the chiller in the unit.

The other three units are not operational due to theft.

"Thieves climb on the rooftops and steal the copper from the units," Shepperd said. "They make a few hundred dollars and the school district has to spend thousands of dollars to replace or repair them."

The total cost for the repairs likely will be more than $100,000, Shepperd said.

Shepperd said district officials bought fans to make the students at the affected schools comfortable.

"We also sent a lot of chilled bottle water," Shepperd said. "And we relaxed the dress code. The students and staff can wear comfortable clothes while they are without air conditioning."

District officials are monitoring the heat index to make sure students and staff do not get too hot. The heat index reached 93 in the metro-east on Monday.

In the event that the heat index becomes a factor, the schools will consider early dismissal or other options, Shepperd said.

District officials sent a letter to parents as soon as the problems were discovered Friday.

Shepperd said the parts for the chiller have to be custom made.

The district ordered the parts as soon as the theft and mechanical problems were discovered and the district is waiting for the necessary parts to arrive.

Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.

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