Schools inspected for repair schedule Balto. Co. buildings checked for problems before planning work

March 15, 1998|By Howard Libit | Howard Libit,SUN STAFF

When the engineers enter Carney Elementary School, their evaluation of the building starts immediately.

Are the sidewalks cracked? Is the entrance accessible to disabled students? Are the hallways too dark? Do the walls need paint? Are the toilets rusty? Does the heating system work? And are there any suspicious odors?

These questions and hundreds more are part of a survey by Perks-Reutter Associates of almost all Baltimore County's 159 schools. The answers will explain why school and county officials are bracing themselves for a repair bill that could reach $400 million.

"When schools get to be 30 or 40 years old, they're going to need work," says John Kennedy, the Perks-Reutter project manager who also supervised the firm's evaluation of the Philadelphia school district buildings. "The money that it takes to do those repairs is going to be very, very big, because it's the mechanical, electrical and plumbing areas that tend to need the biggest repairs."

The Philadelphia firm was hired to assess the condition of the district's schools after air-quality problems led to the closing of two elementaries in 1996. Concerned about years of neglect in maintaining the aging building, the Baltimore County Council set aside $1 million for the study.

With the results of the Perks-Reutter survey, school officials aim to put together by November a list of the repairs needed for every school, in order of priority.

Carney Elementary School is a typical Baltimore County school, and the way it was evaluated recently by the Perks-Reutter team illustrates the big and small repairs that the county will need to do over the next five to 10 years.

Opened in 1965, Carney is among the more than 80 percent of county schools constructed before 1970. The building has its original heating system of two oil-burning boilers, but the roof was replaced in 1992 and a free-standing modular addition was built three years ago.

Before the engineers arrived at the school last week, Perks-Reutter project engineer Heather Graci had interviewed the principal and head custodian, asking what problems they saw.

"If there are problems they're having, we want to know about them so we can be sure to take a closer look," says Graci, who asks about everything from fire safety to hallway lighting.

With the interview, the computer record on Carney Elementary is begun. By the time Perks-Reutter turns its report over to school facilities officials, a computerized record will show the condition of every area of the school -- classrooms and bathrooms, offices and closets.

Walking into Room 1 of Carney, Randall Jennings pulls out his measuring wheel and paces out the size of the room, recording the dimensions on his laptop computer.

Jennings then runs through the customized computer program and takes stock of the room and everything permanently installed in it. Do the walls need repainting? What is the condition of the clock on the wall and the chalkboards? Are there any signs of leaking around the windows?

This first-grade classroom happens to be in "pretty good" condition, Jennings says, and after about five to 10 minutes, he ++ moves down the hall.

Meanwhile, Thomas Feulner is inspecting the gymnasium and bathrooms.

Picking his way around the gymnastics equipment, Feulner notes that the yellow walls of the gym are faded and in need of paint. He also notes dents in the round metal heat diffusers along the ceiling -- probably the result of errant balls.

In the boys' bathroom, the toilet stall doors are rusty and battered, and one of the two urinals is boarded up. The lighting is dim because the skylight was covered when the school received a new roof. But the floor -- made of terrazzo -- is in "great shape and will last forever," Feulner says.

Two engineers from Siegel, Rutherford, Bradstock & Ridgway Inc., a Catonsville engineering company hired by Perks-Reutter to do mechanical, electrical and plumbing inspections, are working in the boiler room .

During this visit, Carney's finicky boiler No. 1 isn't working, leaving custodian Ron Donoho to manage boiler No. 2. The heating works with one boiler, but Donoho and Carney Principal Stephen Warner say they hope to get the oil-burning boilers replaced with a new, more reliable natural gas system.

As electrical engineer Joe Fortney reviews the wiring and circuit breakers, mechanical engineer Michael Meekins looks closely at the pipes that carry oil into the building from a 10,000-gallon underground tank.

"It's old, but about what you'd expect in a 33-year-old building," Meekins says as he examines the aging white insulation covering the pipes.

He and Fortney go up to the roof for an inspection, paying attention to such items as ventilation units.

After the inspections, Perks-Reutter must analyze the data on Carney and all the other schools that are being evaluated.

Though Carney is three decades old, much of the building appears to be in relatively good condition.

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