Schmoke calls for boiler check Mayor wants all 182 schools to be inspected

Late October deadline

'Fresh eyes' to look at systems showing widespread violations

September 20, 1996|By Marcia Myers and Jean Thompson | Marcia Myers and Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

Faced with widespread safety violations in heating and hot water systems at city schools, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke yesterday ordered independent inspectors to evaluate boilers at all 182 schools next month.

The decision comes after a string of random audits by state boiler inspectors, who discovered problems at every one of the 42 schools they checked after a boiler accident in June at Hazelwood Elementary School. That incident left 7-year-old Ashley Moore with second- and third-degree burns. The state reports, detailed this week by The Sun, described painted-over controls, unsafe repairs and safety valves inspectors could not reach to examine.

"We're not going to allow this situation to develop or persist if there are any dangerous conditions that might lead to the type of accident that occurred with young Ashley Moore," Schmoke said during a news conference yesterday.

The evaluations will be completed by late October, he said, and will be handled by inspectors other than the city-paid crew from Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co. Hartford Steam's evaluations have been called into question in light of the state findings, which in some cases differed widely from Hartford's.

"I hope our inspections find that the worst case is that there is some old equipment and maybe some that may need minor repairs," Schmoke said. "In any event, we'll get fresh eyes taking a look at it."

On Monday, City Council President Lawrence A. Bell III called for a complete inspection of all school boiler systems and said he was organizing a meeting with school officials.

Superintendent Walter G. Amprey said he has asked former Baltimore County school board president Calvin Disney to be a consultant for the project.

Disney, vice-president of Whiting-Turner Contracting Co., resigned from the school board presidency in July after serving for nearly 10 years.

He is scheduled to meet with Amprey next week.

"My biggest concern is how safe are the boilers," Amprey said. "I'm being told the schools are safe, but that is why we're going to do these inspections -- to make sure we can feel better ourselves about the safety."

Under an agreement with the state, Hartford Steam has promised to inspect all school boilers by Oct. 1. The new inspections ordered by Schmoke will be done in addition to those, said city officials. Schmoke said the new inspections would be handled either by city employees or private inspectors.

Grace Martin, spokeswoman for Hartford Steam, said it was "not appropriate" to discuss the status of the school boiler inspections, and declined to comment on the mayor's decision to bring in other inspectors.

Some city schools continue to limp along with no hot water.

Boilers remained shut down yesterday at City College high school, which has been without hot water since last week.

Carver Vocational-Technical School was forced to operate without hot water for two days this week while crews worked to repair its three boilers.

But Principal Michael Plitt said the inconvenience was minimal.

"The cafeteria had to prepare some alternative meals and things," he said. "They had to boil water primarily just to wash utensils."

Schmoke yesterday promised that any problems identified by inspectors would be repaired promptly.

"If we find there are boilers that are a potential hazard or danger, we'll just take the money from some other program and get it repaired," Schmoke said. "If necessary, we'll even borrow -- ask the state to advance us funds from some other project."

The school system is preparing an estimate on the cost of both the inspections and possible repairs.

Baltimore can ask Maryland to send more construction aid if the inspections reveal safety problems that require emergency boiler replacements or major renovations.

The state provides money for major work on a project-by-project basis, but not for small repairs such as changing valves and gauges, said Yale Stenzler, who oversees school construction an renovation funds in Maryland.

During the past three years, Stenzler noted, the city has not made boiler replacement or renovation requests a priority.

One school renovation project requested in fiscal 1997 included boiler work, but projects identified as greater priorities received the funding instead, he said.

Yesterday, school officials said they would be contacting the state for financial help.

Pub Date: 9/20/96

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