Brrr, it's cold in here. Several Pasco schools go without power this morning
Ridgewood High English teacher Jackie Engel stays warm while teaching class in the school media center, which at 59 degrees was warmer than her portable classroom. Times photo/Brendan Fitterer
When senior Jamie Servidio arrived at Pasco County's Ridgewood High School for classes Monday morning, "It was 25 degrees outside and there was no heat inside."
"It was dark inside, too," added senior Daniela Aguilar.
"Our teacher didn't even take her hand out of her pockets," said senior Jacquelyn Brown.
The situation didn't improve for nearly four hours, as Ridgewood and 10 other Pasco County schools lost full or partial power on the first day back from winter break. The others were Chasco Elementary, Pine View Middle, Pine View Elementary, Seven Springs Middle, Zephyrhills High, Marchman Technical, Gulf High, Denham Oaks Elementary, Cotee River Elementary and Mitchell High.
Superintendent Heather Fiorentino sent a phone message home Sunday to all employees and parents telling them to dress warmly for school Monday because the power companies had warned of rolling blackouts as demand for heat continued through the area's unprecedented cold snap.
Ridgewood principal Andy Frelick said his school had no power when he arrived at 6:30 a.m. That meant the bells weren't working to signal the start of end of classes. The counselors couldn't use computers to call up schedules for students, who were starting their new semester of classes. The cafeteria couldn't prepare warm meals for breakfast and lunch.
Worst of all, students and staff said, it was just darn cold. At 9:30 a.m., the media center logged in a brisk 59 degrees. (The school usually sets its thermostat about 13 degrees warmer.)
"Usually, we don't allow hats," Frelick said, as he pointed to several students wearing wool caps, scarves, gloves and heavy jackets. "I told students, 'If you wear hats or hoods or gloves, it's okay.' "
He also gave them permission to use their usually banned cell phones to illuminate papers in their darkened classrooms.
Many students said they planned to tough out the day, concerned mostly that there would be food at lunch time.
"I'm cold, but I'm warm enough to get by," said junior Kaitlyn Swezey. "I'm going to stay."
But several others got their parents to sign them out, saying it was too cold to stick around.
"I went in and checked in with my teacher and told her I was leaving," said senior Samantha Aloi, who went to nearby Chasco Elementary to work in the front office. "There was no power and no heat. It was cold in there."
That didn't change until 9:54 a.m. The alarm system beeped in the Ridgewood media center as lights flickered on and the generator whirred to life. Within minutes all 11 schools that had lost power were back on the grid.
District officials said they did not know if any other schools would fall victim to another blackout later in the day.