Gauging the mood of Ella White boilers

The two Ella White School boilers were recently in The News. One got its picture on the front page, but shouldn’t have. Both Ella White boilers are, like me, too old to have their picture on the front page. The boiler that did get its picture there looked as if had recently awoken from a nap. I know naps.

I also know boilers. Oh, I’m no boiler expert, hold no boiler inspection certificate, and what I’ve learned I learned the hard way, but I learned a thing or two.

A few years back I worked as a flue blower in #1 Kiln Room at the cement plant. I worked a shift with Dave Buszka, who was an expert in the flue-blowing trade. Dave could employ a flue-blowing wand with the grace of an orchestra conductor while restoring harmony to massive boilers rendered discordant by an accumulation of kiln dust.

I struggled as an assistant conductor. Dave would be done cleaning his boilers’ flues before I was halfway through with mine. One day, while I was blowing the flues in the lower level of the boiler between #5 and #6 kilns, its top blew off.

I remember three things about that experience: the deafening noise of steam escaping under great pressure, the rolling clouds of obscuring dust that the escaping steam engendered, and me, running, tripping over pipes and valves and grating to get as far away as fast as I could.

At that time, front-office folks wore white hats. Soon, there were more white hats in #1 Kiln Room than I had ever seen anywhere, anytime. Though I wore a lowly green hat, those white hats gathered ’round as I described my encounter with a kiln room boiler that had lost its temper.

Thus experienced and perceiving a need, I resolved to gauge the mood of the Ella White boilers.

Prior to the last millage election, a certain letter writer wrote to the editor of The News. Here’s a portion of that letter:

“Government’s responsibility/sole purpose is to protect, establish law, create a monetary system. That’s it. Nowhere does it state, ‘provide medical coverage’ or ‘provide education’ nor ‘provide anything.'”

Not much warmth there.

Michigan law provides for the compulsory education of all children between the ages of 6 and 16, but boilers aren’t mentioned.

Presumably, they would fall in the writer’s “nor provide anything” category.

We want our children to pursue meaningful lives — to grow and prosper and be a credit to their mothers, fathers, grandparents, and friends. We want them to be able to pursue opportunities and any happiness life may hold for them during an existence that is fleeting — but we want them also to have the strength and skills needed to recalibrate movements that become discordant, to protect us when we are threatened, and — when we are old — to help keep us warm.

To limit them to the pursuit of cold indifference — though sprinkled with glitter that shines — is to lead to meaninglessness, an antithesis to the warmth a boiler and an education working together can provide.

So, I arranged a meeting with the Ella White boilers.

I’d like to be able to report I found them refreshed after a summer’s rest, but I can’t. They did their best to present well, but neither could hide an abiding weariness, an emerging unkemptness — their water was leaking. They are, after all, nearly double the age of their projected working lives.

Ella white has 400 students, the junior high, 900, the high school, over 1,100, but the cost to operate the Ella White boilers is greater than the heating cost of those larger schools.

To replace them will be expensive — obsolescence runs deep through the entire system — but we really have no choice. Far cheaper that than to lose the viability of Ella White as a functioning school.

I’m biased, I know that. Not only have I had a prior association with old boilers, now, I share their mood.

And sharing that, I know this: We need to allow the Ella White boilers to retire.

Doug Pugh’s “Vignettes” runs biweekly on Tuesdays. He can be reached at pughda@gmail.com.