It is common to find students eating in the courtyard during lunch when the weather is nice. However, the seating situation is not always ideal. Many of the concrete tables are broken, and there often aren’t enough seats to accommodate all of the students who want to eat outdoors.
Four years ago, the PTSA began a campaign through the Partners for Excellence program to replace these concrete tables with red picnic tables in order to make eating lunch outdoors a more pleasant experience. In the past year, however, the project has reached a roadblock. As is the case with much of Manual’s equipment, the tables are owned by JCPS, therefore only a representative from the district is permitted to remove the concrete tables to make room for the new ones. Despite repeated requests, no one from the district has arrived to pick them up.
“When we started this project, we polled the whole school about what they wanted fixed. Students really wanted to change the patio space.” said PTSA president Pinky Jackson. “They said that the concrete tables were rough and hurt their skin, that the tables weren’t wheelchair-accessible, and that a lot of them were broken. Our overall goal was just to improve the patio space, so we raised money for three years and bought the tables. When we were finally ready to move them in last year, we talked to the district to get someone to get the old ones, but they just brushed us aside every time.”
The PTSA was able to move several of the concrete tables into the Visual Arts courtyard and replace them with some of the new red tables. However, because they are unable to remove the others, the rest of them are in storage on the back of the stage in the auditorium, unable to be used by the students. Partners for Excellence chair Maria Sorolis believed that the delay is due to a lack of staff. “The issue is simply manpower, I believe. With budget cuts, I suspect the JCPS staff is pretty lean.”
Ms. Jackson, on the other hand, speculated that the district’s reluctance was symptomatic of a larger trend. “When JCPS wants to point to success stories, it points to Manual, but it doesn’t always give us what we need. A lot of times, we’re ignored in favor of schools thought of as less fortunate, even though we also have problems.”
According to JCPS, Manual placed a work order to remove 13 concrete tables and benches on July 11. “July is pretty busy for us, which is probably why the tables haven’t been removed yet,” said JCPS maintenance manager Mike Rueff. “The grounds department is usually very backed up in the summer because they have to mow grass and try to get things ready for school. We prioritize work based on the urgency of the request, so things that are essential to safety like fallen trees are put first.” JCPS representatives were not able to specify a date at which they believed the tables could be claimed.
Aside from the tables themselves, the PTSA has an even bigger problem: because the project for the picnic tables is not yet complete, the PTSA is unable to ask for more donations for new projects. This is preventing further improvements for the school that would potentially benefit the whole Manual community. “We can’t ask parents for more money until this is complete,” said Ms. Jackson. “They’ve given so much and nothing has happened yet.”
Despite the problems with installing the new picnic tables, many Manual administrators and students do not have a problem with the existing outdoor seating arrangement. “The courtyard isn’t designed to accommodate all students who might be at a particular lunch. It’s more like an overflow area. So we have plenty of seating for the main purpose of the courtyard. I’m still glad that the PTSA took on this project,” said Mr. Kuhn.
Others are satisfied with the current tables themselves. “Personally, I don’t think that we should even put red tables into the courtyard,” said Avani Kabra (10, MST). “They don’t really go with the style of the building. If anything, I think that we should replace the concrete ones.”