School roofs leak faster than Baltimmore County can patch them

July 13, 1992|By Glenn Small | Glenn Small,Staff Writer

The stench of hot asphalt floats through the halls of Carney Elementary School as Lu Beth Cornell, the school's principal, ppoints out the numerous areas where rainwater streamed into her school this past year.

"Rain was pouring into classrooms," Mrs. Cornell says, "pouring over electric wires where the lights hung down. It was like a river going through the ceilings. It was like a disaster area."

She hopes for a change in the coming school year.

In Friday's 100-degree heat, roof workers mopped scalding-hot black liquid asphalt between the seams of rolled fiberglass paper, working to completely replace the 29-year-old school's 63,000-square-foot roof by September.

Carney is the latest Baltimore County school to have its leaky roof replaced. The Carney job is costing about $420,000. In the last year, the county has spent about $7 million to replace the roofs of 18 other county schools and plans to spend another $7 million this year to replace the porous roofs of perhaps 20 more schools.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that even with those expenditures, 57 other county schools remain with chronically leaking roofs, and the county doesn't have the money to fix them -- at least not immediately.

"We figured that if we spent $7 million a year, it will take us six years to get caught up," said Barry K. Pickelsimer, manager of the school system's department of building maintenance.

The reasons are varied. Two-thirds of the county's 148 schools were built in the baby boom decades of the 1950s and 1960s. Their black asphalt roofs last about 20 to 30 years, depending on how well they were built, county officials say. As fast as workers replace the leaky roofs on one batch of schools, the roofs at other schools start leaking and need to be replaced, Mr. Pickelsimer said.

Another reason is that teen-agers and others walk on the roofs, clog the drains and break bottles on the asphalt.

And there is the money problem. The past decade hasn't been the best in terms of school funding. In 1981, for instance, the county allocated only $500,000 for roof replacements. During the past 10 years, the average amount allocated for roof replacements was $2.1 million, much less than was actually needed, school officials say.

"The moneys were just not there at the time," Mr. Pickelsimer said.

The funding picture changed in 1991, when $7 million was allocated for roof replacements, and $7 million more was allocated this spring for the coming fiscal year. In November, county voters will be asked to approve a school bond referendum that would provide $13.7 million for fiscal 1994 and 1995 to replace failing roofs.

School officials believe that if the bond referendum is approved they can go a long way toward catching up with the leaky roofs, Mr. Pickelsimer said.

E. Joseph Martin, an assistant supervisor in the department of construction, said that the replacement roofs are much better than most of the original roofs. They have more layers of asphalt and better drainage systems.

"We don't expect these new ones to fail as soon," said Mr. Martin, who supervises the design and replacement of the roofs.

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