Upkeep cost for schools: $70 million Figure represents only most pressing repair projects

Many new roofs needed

Problem compounded by continued growth of education system

September 06, 1996|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

The maintenance backlog at Anne Arundel County public schools will reach nearly $70 million this year, and school officials expect that amount will continue to grow.

A preliminary list given to the school board this week is 25 pages long. When completed next month, it is expected to represent between $68 million and $69 million worth of maintenance, one-sixth of the school system's operating budget for this year.

The backlog represents only major upkeep, with 37 school buildings -- one third of the facilities -- needing new roofs, Edward Almes, supervisor of maintenance, told the board.

Anne Arundel schools have two workers whose full-time duty is to patch roofs.

Other needed work includes repaving rutted parking lots, replacing broken doors on bathroom stalls and installing new floors. Some items have been on the list since 1989.

The list of deferred projects mushroomed from $35 million in the late 1980s to $65 million last winter as buildings aged, makeshift repairs deteriorated and educational demands edged out maintenance requests. Compounding the problem is that the school system has continued to grow and now totals 11 million square feet of space.

Almes, clearly upset, told the board that the bottom line will increase "10 to 15 percent a year."

Ralph A. Luther, director of facilities management, said it would take at least $18 million a year to properly maintain all school structures -- and that wouldn't touch the backlog.

"Every year we are $3 million to $7 million short," he said.

This year, for example, there is $10.6 million in the operating budget and $3.3 million in the capital budget for maintenance. In ZTC 1988, there was $8.3 million in the operating budget and $1.7 million in the capital budget for maintenance. But given inflation and an increase in the number of facilities, maintenance has lost financial ground, said Gregory V. Nourse, financial officer.

Officials are trying to get another $2 million in carpeting, ventilation systems and exterior work into next year's capital budget -- the first time those are being proposed as specific line items, said Ronald L. Beckett, associate superintendent for business and management services.

But, he acknowledged, it would take too long to reduce the backlog using that method alone.

Board member Thomas E. Florestano asked if impact fees paid by builders could be applied, but Beckett said that money can be used only to increase building size.

Making matters worse is that schools are not being renovated or replaced on a 40-year cycle, said school board President Joseph H. Foster.

"If you are not doing your renovations on that 40-year cycle, that backlog is going to continue to grow. If you can't maintain the building during that 40-year life cycle, the condition is going to get worse and it is going to deteriorate faster," he said.

Foster said he doesn't envision a sudden infusion of money from the county government, whose elected officials keep saying finances are tight.

In some places, people are taking matters into their own hands.

Last year, the school system paid for only emergency painting, so this summer some teachers painted their own classrooms and parents painted some others. Both groups said they did it to improve school morale.

But neither group wants to be counted on to continue the work. Maintenance is not a teacher's responsibility, said John Kurpjuweit, teachers union president.

Esther Parker, president of the Anne Arundel County Council of PTAs, said parents already volunteer to raise money for instructional materials and computers. Many parents are unaware that their school needs repairs until they see buckets cluttering hallways to catch rain, she said.

Nevertheless, the PTA council is likely to press the issue because "I don't think we can go on much longer like this," Parker said. "At some point, we are going to have to pay the piper."

Pub Date: 9/06/96

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