UPDATE: On Tuesday, Channel 3 got a look inside Benton Elementary School for the first time since the school's cafeteria roof collapsed nearly three weeks ago.

Missing and crumbling ceiling tiles, exposed insulation and wires were spotted. The damage is estimated to cost $100,000. 

"This is just an old building so obviously there needs to be some repairs along the way," said Principal Valerie Davis. 

Davis says it has been a challenge feeding the 845 elementary and middle school students who depend on the cafeteria. Students have been eating sack lunches while the cafeteria remains closed. 

Tuesday, crews worked to put the roof back together. Air quality and asbestos experts examined the cafeteria as a precaution.

Director of Schools, Dr. James Jones told Channel 3 a health inspector already deemed the space safe. 

"Some of the parents have raised concerns and so we just want to put everybody’s mind at ease and that student safety is our number one concern," said Davis. 

It is not an ideal situation, but Davis says they are making it work. 

"We've managed quite well," said Davis. "Hopefully by Monday of next week we will be ready to go."

Emergency funds will cover the $100,000 in repairs.

Dr. Jones says he is still working with the county commission to help with the cost.

Commissioner John Pippenger told Channel 3 over the phone, that some of the commissioners attended a joint presentation last week to hear ideas on how to improve schools in the future. 


PREVIOUS UPDATE: From Dr. James Jones, Director of Schools

“The rest of the roof at Benton Elementary will be finished this week, barring any more unforeseen problems.  We also have an air quality control and certified asbestos company coming on Tuesday. The health inspector has given the kitchen an OK.  We are working to solve the problems as quickly as we can. All schools in Polk County, including Benton, are open and on regular schedule.”

We first told you about dilapidated ceilings and a lack of proper running water at the school a couple of weeks ago.

Benton Elementary will reopen Monday after being closed Friday. The superintendent told Channel 3 that students will be eating lunch elsewhere while repairs are being made to the cafeteria roof.

Work started on the Benton Elementary School cafeteria roof Thanksgiving week.     

Channel 3 learned Thursday several schools would be closed while the roof was being fixed.

The damage also affects Chilhowee Middle School. The cafeteria provides those students lunch too.

Some problems around a drain on top of the building forced the school to close temporarily. Superintendent Dr. James Jones said the issues were possibly caused by workers on the roof.

"Really bad leaks around that drain that flowed right into the ceiling tiles and made them soggy and dangerous. So, we just really needed to take care of this problem before we can get back in there,” Dr. James Jones, superintendent for Polk County Schools, said.

Dr. Jones said a new roof is being installed. That hasn't happened in almost 20 years.

"Anytime you're dealing with very old buildings like that you're gonna presumably run into problems if not the same ones. We are doing the best we can with what we have to work with. What we really need is new buildings,” Dr. Jones said.

One hundred thousand dollars worth of emergency funds is being used to replace the roof. Dr. Jones has asked county commissioners to reimburse the school system for the repairs.

The superintendent said the repairs should be finished by Tuesday. In the meantime, students will have lunches prepared for them. Those details are still being worked out.


PREVIOUS STORY: Several Polk County schools will be closed Friday while repairs are being made to fix the cafeteria roof at Benton Elementary.

South Polk Elementary, Benton Elementary, Chilhowee Middle and Polk County High School will all not have school Friday.

The Benton Elementary cafeteria also feeds Chilhowee Middle School students.


PREVIOUS STORY: Polk County parents are outraged over what is going on inside Benton Elementary School.

Dilapidated ceilings and a lack of proper running water are just a few of the complaints. Parents started reaching out to Channel 3 when a ceiling tile fell and hit a Pre-K student during lunchtime.

Asbestos, mold and crumbling ceiling tiles are just some of the things students and teachers are dealing with as Polk County schools continue to age.

Parents said they do not feel safe sending their children to Benton Elementary School.

“They come home and talk about the river that is flowing in the cafeteria, the buckets that are in the hallways, the soap not being in the dispenser. Those are things as a parent you just do not want to hear,” Angie Crowder said. “We had a situation where a ceiling title has fallen out of the ceiling and struck a child. We are upset that had happen. We hope the school board and the school system works to get those things fixed.”

We took their concerns to the director of schools. Dr. James Jones said the ceiling has been on his radar for several years.

“We have known we've had problems since the summer," Dr. Jones said. "We've been trying to patch those as we go. We had to cut $400,000 from our budget this year.”

He will use $100,000 from emergency funds to replace the roof and will ask the county commission to reimburse the school district for the repairs.

“We've been trying to make due as long as we can," Dr. Jones added. "The problem has continued to get worse. We realized this past few weeks we're going to have to do something.”

“We hope in the future they are more proactive than reactive to these types of things,” Crowder added.  

Polk County Schools are closed all next week for Thanksgiving break. Dr. Jones said the ceiling will be replaced and finished by the time students return in December.