Cost Rises On D.C. School Repairs
Problems Greater Than Expected

By Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 23, 2007

District leaders said yesterday that they need to spend an additional $120 million to make emergency repairs to city schools because the dilapidated buildings need more work than originally planned.

That money would go toward 70 schools that officials said were spruced up over the summer and are ready to open when class begins Monday, but the buildings have a backlog of work orders and code violations. In addition, the funds will address heating and air-conditioning problems throughout the system so students won't have to sit in classrooms that are too cold or hot.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) announced the School Stabilization Program at a news conference at Calvin Coolidge Senior High School in Northwest yesterday in his latest effort to bring noticeable change to the 55,000-student school system.

Fenty, who gained control of D.C. public schools in June, said the school maintenance issues had lingered for decades. "If we attack all of those [repairs], and we have to, and we will, it's about a $120 million cost," he said.

Allen Y. Lew, chief of the new school modernization office, said he needs that amount of money to clear a backlog of more than 10,000 work orders dating back at least five years.

Last year, the D.C. Council approved a $2.3 billion, 10-year school modernization package to upgrade aging buildings and construct new ones. The additional money Fenty seeks for the emergency repairs is separate from those funds. Lew said his repair and construction plans will "change the culture of the school system."

"What we're looking to do is eradicate all of the outstanding violations . . . from health code issues to fire code issues, and the most critical ones we will address on a priority basis, and the rest of them we will spread throughout the rest of the year," he said.

Fenty said he has secured an initial $12 million from the city's cash reserves to start inspecting boilers and making other heating fixes at all city schools by mid-October. Officials did not say where the balance would come from.

The $12 million is a loan, said Maryann Young, spokeswoman for the Office of the Chief Financial Officer, and will be repaid by the end of the next fiscal year, Sept. 30, 2008, perhaps through school system funds, she said.

The system spent $80 million this summer on repairs to 71 of its 141 schools. Workers have replaced leaking roofs, repointed brickwork, fixed toilets and replaced lighting under three repair programs.

For example, Cleveland Elementary in Northwest had new toilet seats installed under a "buff and scrub" initiative in which contractors donated their services to repair 54 schools. As part a $24 million targeted repair program, roof leaks and plumbing problems were repaired at Mamie D. Lee School in Northeast.

Early feedback from principals indicates that they are pleased with the summer repairs. Victor Reinoso, deputy mayor for education, said yesterday that Drew Elementary School Principal Kyle Bacon had to fight back tears Saturday when he saw his school after the work was complete. The Northeast school had its playground circle, hallways and front entrance doors painted.

At Coolidge, one of six high schools that had athletic fields upgraded through a $27 million joint repair program of the school system and the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission, football coach Jason Lane said yesterday that the repairs to the track make a tremendous difference.

Before, when students ran, there was a "cloud of dust" in their wake, Lane said. Principal L. Nelson Burton chimed in, likening the track to "a country road."

Council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) said the improvements show students that the city believes "they are worth this investment. They are worth state-of-the-art facilities." Teachers and students attending the news conference on the Coolidge track and football field applauded.

"This is only the start," Bowser said, adding that she hopes to see similar upgrades in classrooms.

With winter coming, Lew said, every school boiler will be inspected so that each school will be guaranteed to have heat by mid-October. Last school year, four schools -- H.D. Woodson Senior High and Ludlow-Taylor Elementary, both in Northeast, and Johnson Junior High and Simon Elementary in Southeast -- were shut down temporarily because of heating failures.

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