Thursday, August 26, 1999

Broken schools, band-aid solutions
Art The deteriorating physical condition of some of Hawaii's schools came to the public's attention this past school year when Radford High School parents complained to the Board of Education.

Radford was in disrepair, with termites traveling under a wrestling mat, termite-eaten locker room shelves, broken water fountains and other problems.

But a Star-Bulletin inquiry shows that while the state backlog of school repair and maintenance projects stands at $241 million, Radford, with $2.7 million in pending repairs, isn't even among the 10 most-affected schools.

Today: Where the money goes and how Hawaii schools ended up this way.

Tomorrow: Which schools have the most in backlogged repairs and how your school stacks up.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin

Castle High was among the schools getting attention this
summer, and Vice Principal Larry Biggs said he was pleased
with the painting done by workers of the Department of
Accounting and General Services. Public confidence is
something DAGS hopes to gain as it aims to improve its
work and service. James Richardson, DAGS Central
Services Division chief, said he used to have problems
with workers "running away" from jobs but that
appears to be changing. "We have to project a
different image of professionalism," he said.

Low Funding,
Leaky Roofs

By Crystal Kua


They called them rain catchers. "I still remember when I first came here 10 years ago, I was running out to schools and we were running plastic to trash cans to catch the (rain) water because a lot of roofs were leaking," recalled James Richardson. "They needed reroofing but we didn't have that much money."

Richardson was a full-time engineer, part-time rain catcher for the Central Services Division of the Department of Accounting and General Services, responsible for maintaining and repairing Hawaii's public schools.

Jeff T. Davis, a state building maintenance supervisor, says the rain-catching days are over.

When money became more plentiful in the ensuing years, roof jobs were one of the first to get done, Davis said. "The biggest improvement was that a lot of the roofs are now in good shape."

But officials at the departments of Education and Accounting and General Services say the budget has been declining in recent years, and the school repair-and-maintenance situation is only going to get worse without some help.

By Ken Ige, Star-Bulletin
Budget cuts are forcing the Department of Accounting and
General Services to rethink its approach to repair and maintenance.
For example, school custodians are being taught to handle some
less complicated repairs, freeing work crews to concentrate on
bigger problems. Here, Elisa Ragasa, a custodian at Ewa
Elementary School cuts glass jalousies.

"Unless we get more money, the repairs are continually going to fall behind to the point where they become emergencies," said Richardson, now DAGS Central Services Division chief.

"Two or three years from now, we're going to have a lot more roofs that are going to leak. The money we have now is only going to Band-Aid the problem," Davis said. "If the roof is leaking, they're not going to enjoy the classroom."

But roofs are just the tip of the school repair-and-maintenance iceberg.

The DAGS backlog of major repair and maintenance projects at state schools totals more than $240 million. Some of these projects have been on hold for years.

"Right now the schools are broken," said Farrington High School Vice Principal Myron Monte, who also is worried about his school's roof. "Schools are very old in Hawaii. There's a lot of unanticipated breaks and damages you cannot plan for. ... We need money so that DAGS can do proper repair and maintenance for the schools."


Fixing and renovating not only adds aesthetic value, it also has an educational plus, educators said.

"You always read about the environment being conducive to learning," Honolulu Deputy District Superintendent Raelene Chock said. "I saw it firsthand."

Chock was principal of termite-eaten Kaimuki High School with the paint peeling and floors looking old when it underwent a major face lift during the summer of 1998 with the renovation of several classrooms.

"The different (trades) teams took a building and redid the floor, carpentry, lights, bulletin board and paint," Chock said. "We really needed this repair."

But the transformation wasn't confined to the buildings. When students returned to school, they started the year with a new attitude: "They were ready to sit and learn and felt like they were important. It was a tremendous boost. The students felt like, 'Good heavens, we're special.' "

Before Farrington's renovation in 1997, the school had $27 million in backlogged repair and maintenance projects. That amount is now at about $10 million.

After the renovation, the school began to exude a new sense of pride. But Monte said that although Farrington looks good from the outside, the inside needs attention.

Water faucets spit out brown or black water.

"It meant the pipes are so corroded that it isn't there anymore," he said.

Monte said the school's swimming pool is closed "until the state has the financial means to renovate and maintain."

The pool closed last school year because of a faulty water pump. The pump was fixed, but the school has decided to keep the pool, showers and connected facilities closed until they are all renovated.

The school in the past has spent a lot on emergency repairs associated with the pool, money that could have been used for other projects, Monte said.

"You get to the point where you finally say, 'I can't do it anymore. I can't siphon off from other things.' "

Despite successes at these schools, Richardson acknowledged that much help is needed at others.

"It could be better," Richardson said. "I'm not saying that it's in a shape that (teachers) cannot teach, but it could be better."




In a new approach, DAGS has tried using its own tradesmen during the past few summers to attack repair backlogs at high schools.

This approach not only helps cut costs -- it's cheaper for DAGS to do the work in-house -- but it also saves jobs from privatization, Richardson said.

DAGS takes care of three types of repairs: emergency repairs, cycle maintenance and major repair and maintenance projects. For every 40 schools, the department has about 20 workmen to do all three types of repairs.

For cycle maintenance projects, DAGS spends a day at an elementary school, three days at a middle school and five days at a high school, rotating through each school.

"We cannot leave a crew in there for more than five days because (if we do) somebody down the line is not going to get serviced," said Richardson. "We have a schedule. We send it out to the schools as far as when we're going to come to your school and we tell them we need the work orders."

Work orders are prioritized by the schools, and the workmen obtain the materials necessary for those jobs.

"Our men are instructed to do it in the priority the school tells them," Richardson said.

But sometimes schools will ask for projects that are not scheduled. That can cause delays or take a project beyond a cycle maintenance task, he said.

"They may want to paint a 10-classroom building and obviously if it's in an elementary school, we cannot paint that in one day, (so) it would be something we would consider a larger project," Richardson said.

Richardson also helped to cut costs in other ways. By moving the base yard from a rented facility in Mapunapuna to Jarrett Middle School in Palolo, where work materials are stored, the department saved about $90,000 a year in rent. The change also saved up to 90 minutes a day in travel time because workers now report directly to Jarrett, instead of stopping first in Mapunapuna. Time previously spent for driving can now be used to repair schools, he said.

DAGS seems focused on the schools with the most need. Major renovations have occurred in recent years at Baldwin High School, Farrington High School and Kaimuki High School. Leilehua High School, another school with a lot of backlog, was supposed to be renovated this past summer, but the discovery of lead paint postponed the project.

"DAGS has been quite a presence on our campus," Lanai High and Elementary Principal Pierce Myers said. Lanai is another school with a lot of projects pending.

Kailua High School this past summer underwent a major electrical upgrade. Earlier in the summer, crews were painting buildings at Castle High School.

"I'm very pleased with what they're doing and the way it looks," Castle Vice Principal Larry Biggs said while watching Davis' crew paint outdoor student lockers.

Before lawmakers began cutting the repair and maintenance operating budget, Davis said he could see a light at the end of the tunnel.

"We were starting to make the schools look better," he said.

But now he's not so sure.


Schools need roofs changed, the exterior and interior of dingy buildings repainted, bathrooms renovated, termite infestation treated, broken glass louvers replaced, light fixtures changed, plumbing pipes upgraded, parking lots paved, rooms recarpeted and thousands of other projects completed. Total amount of backlogged major projects: more than $240 million.

But for the current fiscal year, only $9.5 million is available for major projects in Central Services' operating budget, $2 million for minor repairs and $1.8 million for emergency fixes in an overall DAGS school repair and maintenance budget of $25 million.

"How somebody can give you that amount and expect the schools to survive. It just boggles my mind," Monte said.

The operating budget for school repair and maintenance reached a low of $8 million in the mid-1980s.

Since then the school repair and maintenance budget began to rebound, with funding levels between $40 million and $46 million until the early 1990s.

Cuts began to hit the department during the 1995-96 fiscal year, and the budget went from $46 million to $25 million.

"There is never enough money to go around," said Sen. Carol Fukunaga (D, Makiki, Tantalus), co-chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Dwight Takamine (D, North Hilo, Hamakua), chairman of the House Finance Committee, said: "What our revenue picture will look like will determine what we spend. You can't spend more than what you have."

Fukunaga said the Legislature has tried to appropriate as close to the amount the department has requested.

She and Takamine said the Legislature has even increased the amount appropriated for repairs and maintenance in recent years through allocating more capital improvement money for major long-lasting construction projects like a new school.

But Richardson said that not all repair and maintenance work can be paid with capital improvement appropriations because those funds are intended for projects with a life span of 15 to 20 years.

Reroofing would probably qualify, but repainting a building or tearing out a termite-eaten door probably wouldn't, he said.

Richardson also said that even though more new schools have come on line, the amount of money for repair and maintenance hasn't kept pace with new school construction.

Radford High mom Barbara Collins sees school repair and maintenance in Hawaii much like her son's cavity -- when he didn't take care of it, the tiny cavity turned into $2,000 worth of major dental work.

"If you don't maintain, everything is going to turn into capital improvement," Collins said, referring to major construction projects.

Rep. Bob McDermott (R, Aliamanu, Foster Village) who represents the Radford area and sits on the House Education Committee, said reasons given by the Legislature for the lack of funding are just excuses.

"We need to decide what the most important thing is," McDermott said. "I think it's our schools. Where there's a will, there's a way."


Hawaii schools are not the only ones in need of work.

The federal General Accounting Office in 1995 reported that schools nationwide need $112 billion to upgrade or renovate school facilities to a good overall condition.

The National Center for Education Statistics reported earlier this year that the average school building in America in 1998 was 42 years old, an age at which school buildings begin rapid deterioration. Nearly half of the nation's public schools were built between 1950 and 1969, coinciding with the entrance into school by the baby boomer generation, the center said.

School district administrators across the country reported to the GAO that the major reason for the declining physical condition of the nation's schools has been decisions by officials to defer vital maintenance and repair each year because of a lack of money, the GAO report said.

Backlogged repairs by district

				NO. OF		PER
Honolulu	$67,620,656	35,256		$1,918
Central 	$38,016,570	34,706		$1,095
Leeward 	$28,219,000	37,110		$760
Windward	$30,731,636	19,673		$1,562
Big Island 	$32,700,679	27,993		$1,168
Maui 		$37,928,287	21,608		$1,755
Kauai 		$6,028,359	10,962		$550
State 		$241,245,187	187,308		$1,288
Source: Department of Accounting and General Services and Department of Education

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