Honolulu Star-Bulletin - Kokua Line
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Kokua Line

By June Watanabe

Wednesday, August 11, 1999


It’s not easy picking
which schools to fix

Question: Why, as soon as school ended in June, was Lunalilo School's parking lot totally dug up and redone? The pavement looked fine. With budget problems, and schools being in such disrepair, why wasn't the money spent better? Did the money have to be spent before the new fiscal year? Radford High needed repairs more than that parking lot.

Answer: With so many schools needing repairs and with the state Department of Education's repair and maintenance budget being slashed by two-thirds this coming year, the question of what gets fixed where and when is sure to come up again and again.

Roy Tsumoto, an operations and maintenance specialist at the DOE, explained the process.

A few years ago, a consultant said the fairest way to distribute repair and maintenance funds to schools is to use a formula based on enrollment, age of the school and square footage.

The DOE, aided by the state Department of Accounting and General Services Central Services Division, does "a school-by-school study," Tsumoto said.

The schools set their own priorities, although inspectors may override a project. They may find, for example, that the roof is in critical shape, then "we'll adjust accordingly," Tsumoto said.

Projects are selected based on first, health and safety; second, concern for the integrity of the structure; and third, preventive maintenance, he said.

Each school's priorities generally are honored, unless there's a real health and safety issue, he said.

In the case of the Lunalilo repaving, which cost $29,150, inspectors concluded the project met all criteria. Despite what it may have looked like, "the pavement was not in the greatest of shape," Tsumoto said, adding that if nothing was done, chances are it would have gotten worse, escalating repair costs.

As for Radford, Tsumoto said it's like comparing apples and oranges, because Radford is in another district. Priorities are set within each district and funds distributed district by district.

"But then again, within a district, you may find schools that require more money than other schools," he said. "We're not at that stage" where every school can be allotted an X amount of money for repair and maintenance.

The backlog of DOE repair and maintenance projects exceeds $240 million, he said. It'll only get worse.

Tsumoto said the schools were allotted only $9.6 million for major repair and maintenance projects for 1999-2000, compared to this past school year, in which the Lunalilo project came up, whereby about $27 million was available.

"We could at least honor some projects from every school," Tsumoto said.

That $27 million is roughly the amount appropriated for repair and maintenance for several years. With only one-third the funds available this coming year, "We're really struggling to try to make everything work out," Tsumoto said.

"We're trying to maintain the standards of every school. We'll throw the money where it's needed most, based on the criteria of health and safety first. Yet, we still want to honor every school's needs, too. In the case of this year's funding, we're faced with the prospect of some schools not having any projects at all."

Mahalo

To Tony for helping to change my flat tire on the freeway on July 6. I don't know what I would have done without you! -- Gordean





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