Billions Needed To Fix Schools

By Nelson Hernandez
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Prince George's County school system requires $2.1 billion to fix its aging buildings, according to a study that found many schools running on antiquated equipment and deteriorating inside and out.

The study by Parsons 3D/International, ordered in September, looked at 184 schools across the county and found that, although they were generally well kept and clean, many were using equipment long past its prime.

Many mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems are out of date and inefficient, the study found. Food-service equipment is largely in poor condition, with 65 percent of it beyond its normal life expectancy. Most buildings do not comply with federal guidelines for accessibility. And the buildings themselves -- most are 30 to 50 years old -- are showing signs of water damage and wear and tear.

Of the schools examined, the study rated 25 in good condition, 150 in fair condition and nine in poor condition. The study suggested that the board consider replacing the nine buildings in the worst condition: Morningside, Clinton Grove, Avalon, Samuel Chase, Middleton Valley, Henry G. Ferguson and Tulip Grove elementary schools, as well as an annex building at Suitland High School and an office building.

The most expensive things to fix were the schools' heating and air-conditioning systems, which would cost $716 million to address. But other areas came with steep price tags: Electrical repairs would cost $290 million; upgrades to plumbing, $160 million; making schools accessible, $31 million; and replacing the food service equipment, $62 million.

To maintain the schools in their current state until 2018 would cost $700 million, the study said. To bring the schools up to good condition would cost twice as much.

School board members who heard the study's results at a meeting Thursday night said they weren't surprised by the figures. They knew the buildings were in bad shape. They hoped to use the study to encourage county, state and federal authorities to pay for the renovations.

"The word 'huge' doesn't even cover it," said Rosalind A. Johnson (District 1). "It is literally unfathomable at this time. We don't have the money to do this. . . . That is very important. People need to know we are not letting this languish, but we are basically in a patch mode. And it is across the nation."

The board's chairman, Verjeana M. Jacobs (At Large), said she realized that the country was facing difficult economic times that might make paying for the repairs hard, but that would not keep her from arguing the case for more funding.

"It's tough. I realize it's tough, but it does not change what we need for students," she said. "If the answer is no, it is not because they didn't know."

Federal authorities have shown greater interest in the state of school facilities recently. Last month, the House Committee on Education and Labor passed the 21st Century High-Performing Public Schools Facilities Act, which authorizes $6.4 billion for school construction projects for fiscal 2009, much of it geared toward more environmentally friendly construction.

Even if the act gets through Congress, Prince George's will have to compete with jurisdictions across Maryland and the nation for state and federal money in short supply.

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