Thursday, March 16, 2017

Let's talk about Worcester Public Schools' facilities

First, let's look at where we are (this is from page 146 of the FY17 WPS budget):

The $3 million "allocated for building renovation projects" is the Worcester-side match on MSBA projects. You'll remember that long list of accelerated repair--window, roof, boiler--projects that the city is doing with state assistance? That city-side comes out of the $3.5 million allocated to the schools.
Once that's happened, and once there's been technology upgrades, and the buses have been replaced, we're left looking at $65,000 for 50 buildings. $1300 per building isn't going to get you far.

That isn't, of course, the only money that's spent on buildings. Capital spending is the big projects: if the HVAC system breaks, that's capital; if a radiator breaks, that comes out of Facilities ordinary maintenance. But here's what facilities OM has looked like (again FY17, this is page 22):

"But it's gone up by one percent!" you note. Yes: it's gone up by one percent for trash hauling. As the EAW noted earlier this week, with four million square feet to cover, that's 33 cents a square foot.

Now, City Manager Augustus raised some hope that he's understanding some of this with his message on school capital funding, though it appears that what he's doing is creating stabilization funds for the projects at South and at Doherty. That isn't a bad idea--it was shortsighted of the Council to cut North High's last year--but all that does it keep those projects moving forward. Important, but it doesn't fix anything else.

And we have some things to fix.
It was of course the Co2--note that is carbon dioxide, like what you breathe out--that got the headline from Burncoat High last week. That's straightforwardly an air circulation issue: people breathing out creates CO2, and it has to go somewhere, and you want it to be circulating out of the building.
Water testing statewide has yielded some results on lead and copper in Worcester schools (that's the report at tonight's school committee). Most of those are the sort that no longer show up once the water has been running.
We've also been hearing a lot about PCBs (there are so many links that I'm struggling to choose one), which have had...varied contacts with reality (check out the EPA here). What I haven't seen get much attention--in fact, I'd missed it myself until Molly McCullough tweeted it out last week--is the history of what Worcester has done over the past seven years (which is when this issue came to anyone's attention). The link is to a January report to School Committee, which I frankly don't remember getting much of any attention at the time.
So what does it say?
The first thing is that Worcester's been talking to the EPA on this pretty much constantly since 2010, and it's the EPA's guidance that's been followed.
The second thing is that, given that PCBs were used during a period of major school construction, this is whole lot of Worcester's schools: 
Oh, but wait: 

Here's where this gets interesting: after the district removes all the light ballast--which is what's widely seen as the biggest health risk--and seals the cauking, works on the air circulation, and creates a regular round of the sort of cleaning that is needed for this, the district reworks the long-term capital plans of the district. And if you compare what schools have had new windows--and it's window caulk that's the main concern at this point--you're going to see something that looks a lot like the above list.

So where does that leave us now? Well, the EAW wants to decide who should do testing to see if there's PCBs. The district has been acting for the past seven years as if there may well be PCBs and pushing those projects through as quickly as possible. We're still only getting $65,000 in capital to spend on building repairs beyond MSBA and $1.3 million to spend on ordinary maintenance.

I'd like to suggest that it's the final sentence that's the most important one. There's a lot more to fix here, and only small parts of it are about chemicals. But we can't do any of it fast or well enough with the funding we have now.

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