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Board member can't stand kitchen's heat

Maxine Chisolm can't stand the 100-degree heat, but she wouldn't dream of leaving her kitchen at Lomax Elementary School. "I love my job . . . but air conditioning would help," said Chisolm, 46, who has worked in the kitchen at the sixth-grade center for the past 14 years.

School Board member Yvonne McKitrick visited Lomax recently and discovered the sweltering kitchen.

"I can't imagine what it's like in there when it's 90" degrees, she said during a School Board meeting Tuesday night.

"I know money is tight, and we may not be able to do anything right now," she said, but eventually the board will have to consider air conditioning for the school kitchen.

Kitchens were exempted when air conditioning was added to schools about 10 years ago because they are too expensive to cool, said Pete Davidsen, assistant superintendent for administration and operations. He said district officials will inspect the kitchen in the next week to see whether the exhaust fans work properly.

At least 300 students depend on Chisolm and her staff of three for breakfast and lunch each day. At 7:30 each morning, the staff turns on two big ovens and the industrial stove.

By lunchtime, when temperatures near 90 degrees outside, the ovens seem superfluous. The temperature inside the kitchen, built in the early 1960s, feels like a humid 100 degrees.

There is no time to step into the air-conditioned cafeteria, where 285 sixth-graders, 45 kindergarten students and 42 youngsters in the Head Start program eat their lunches. There is no escape until 3 p.m.

"You're so busy wiping sweat the whole while," Chisolm said.

When children cross through the doorway separating the cafeteria and food line, the steamy heat hits them. Two wall fans circulate hot air.

There's no thermometer, but the staff of four doesn't have time to read it anyway, Chisolm said.

"I wouldn't say we could fry an egg in there. What the degree is I don't know," said Principal Flossie Geathers. "I know it's hot."

On the office wall at Lomax, big red block letters offer advice: "For every worry under the sun, there is a remedy or there is none. If there is one, try and find it. If there is none, never mind it."

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