Schools beset by lagging repairs $65 million backlog is expected to grow as funding falls short

Volunteer help sought

Roofs, safety given top priority

painting often postponed

April 25, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

From leaking roofs to rutted asphalt, Anne Arundel County schools have amassed a maintenance backlog of $65 million, and the amount keeps getting larger.

A school system plan for major maintenance projects shows that school facilities are deteriorating beyond the ability of the system to pay for and make repairs. Officials report schools where carpeting is threadbare, windows leak and paint is flaking.

The maintenance backlog has grown from $35 million in the late 1980s as facilities have aged and deteriorated, and as makeshift repairs have been made to stave off major work.

School officials say a backlog of $10 million to $15 million would allow for three- to five-year planning.

They say they have not had enough maintenance money in the budget for years. Maintenance is the first budget category to be pared to meet pressing student needs as the budget is stretched, said Ronald L. Beckett, associate superintendent for business and management services.

He told the County Council last week that the backlog will grow 10 percent a year.

The share of the operating budget designated for maintenance and operations -- a category that includes clearing snow, paying the electric bill and repairing roofs -- has shrunk from slightly more than 13 percent of the 1982 budget to 10.2 percent of the request the school board sent to County Executive John G. Gary last month.

Projects such as installing boilers and federally required asbestos removal typically consume about $3 million in the capital budget, but twice as much is needed, said Ralph A. Luther, director of facilities management.

"It keeps getting underfunded," said Joseph H. Foster, the school board president. "The real question is how do you chip away at it."

The board is likely to consider asking parents and volunteers to tackle summer painting, which doesn't require specialized skills, said.

Repair cycle missed

Because of the costs, the school system has been unable to adhere to a recommended cycle of replacing roofs every 20 years, Mr. Luther said. To do so, the school system would have to redo 400,000 square feet of roof a year at an estimated cost of $5 a square foot, which would come to $2 million a year, he said.

"Generally, we get between a million and a million and a half," Mr. Luther said.

It is unclear how far behind the cycle the system has fallen because some roofs had to be replaced in less than 20 years.

Meanwhile, it takes two full-time maintenance workers just to keep up with roof patching, Mr. Luther said.

Because leaks can cause so many other problems, from falling ceilings to ruined books, they must be attended to quickly.

The roof at Annapolis Middle School wasn't replaced until last year, when it was about 30 years old. And that was only after a section leaked, causing the asbestos tile ceiling in the multipurpose room to fall.

Students lost the use of the room as a result, Principal Kevin Dennehy said.

Roofs and safety are the system's overriding concerns in setting priorities. Painting, for example, is chronically postponed, even though officials acknowledge that graying walls affect morale.

Emergency work done

Administrators say teachers have to find ways to make walls cheerful -- but not overwhelmingly busy -- with such things as posters.

Principals said emergency work generally gets done. In fiscal 1995, $4.5 million went for unscheduled repairs and $265,000 to repair damage from vandalism and for security measures.

At Davidsonville Elementary School, which is listed as needing about $430,000 in maintenance work, parts of the parking lot and playground pavement have crumbled.

Repaving is on the list of things to be done, but no year is specified. The work was requested several years ago.

"When children run, they slip on it, and we have a lot of skinned knees," Principal Jeanne Paglee said.

The school's hallways were painted last year, but it has been more than 11 years since classrooms were painted, and under all the posters and decorations, the walls are dingy.

How much of the work will get done is not known because the county plans to replace the school at the turn of the century.

Pub Date: 4/25/96

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