State, city to begin inspection of boilers at all public schools Timetable for repair hoped for after review of 182 facilities

September 27, 1996|By Kate Shatzkin and Jean Thompson | Kate Shatzkin and Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF

State regulators and city maintenance staff will begin this morning to inspect boilers in Baltimore public schools to make sure they are safe to operate as cold weather approaches.

In a compromise that fulfills Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's call for independent inspections of the hot water and heating systems at all 182 public schools, the joint review is likely to produce the school system's first complete assessment of its boilers and a timetable for repair and replacement.

Karen Napolitano, spokeswoman for the state Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation, confirmed that the department had committed five inspectors for the next 10 days, with the goal of getting one boiler per school approved to provide heat and hot water.

"The objective is to get this done, to make sure the facilities are operational," she said.

Meanwhile, inspectors from the city's boiler insurer, Hartford Steam Boiler Inspection and Insurance Co., continue a separate review of all school boilers due Oct. 1.

Together, the Hartford Steam and city-state follow-up inspections can form "a firm foundation for budget requests for repair and replacement, a blueprint," said Richard Jarry, the city's risk management officer who oversees Baltimore's boiler insurance contract.

"If the schools put this together, they'll have a master plan of what needs to be done and in what time frame."

Walter G. Amprey, Baltimore superintendent of schools, estimated that the inspections would reveal $300,000 to $400,000 in "small" but necessary repairs in schools citywide. But the total will depend on the findings of the inspectors, he cautioned.

"We don't anticipate replacing boilers" at this time, Amprey said. "We think all of this has to do with valves and switches and safety switches, which is important enough."

School officials say that, eventually, they would like to replace or renovate aging and worn boilers, and estimate the cost would be $27 million, a capital expense typically shared by school systems and the state. But until now, Baltimore schools have not had a timetable for boiler replacements.

Amprey said the state has agreed to review repair work deemed necessary by the inspectors. And he said the city may need to hire a contractor to manage the process of bringing boilers up to state requirements if the job begins to seem too big for school maintenance managers to handle alone.

He has met with Calvin Disney, a Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. vice president and former Baltimore County school board president who is being consulted on the boiler problems.

Amprey said it was his understanding that there would be no cost to the city for the state inspections. Last week, the city had considered hiring an outside company to look at the boilers.

Jarry said Hartford Steam Boiler has not charged the city for its accelerated inspections.

"I believe Hartford [Steam] has come to see this as honoring the spirit of its contract, as good faith," he said. The city paid a one-year premium of $81,000 for insurance of school boilers, and regular state-required inspections are part of the service the insurer provides.

Hartford Steam spokeswoman Grace Martin said the company brought in extra inspectors for the job. "We're doing everything we can to meet that deadline," she said.

Clinton Coleman, the mayor's press secretary, did not return telephone calls yesterday seeking comment on the agreement.

Pub Date: 9/27/96

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