"The fact is, our schools are aging. Period. So superintendent (Pat Hamamoto) wants to have a true snapshot of the schools."

Richard Soo
Director of safety services, state Department of Education

Safety of ceilings
at schools in doubt

Education officials will inspect
sites built around the same
time as Kailua Intermediate

The type of ceiling construction that collapsed at 51-year-old Kailua Intermediate School last week is common in schools built around the same time, and the Department of Education is trying to determine just how common.

State of Hawaii DOE officials say they don't yet know exactly how many schools feature the same ceiling supports that gave out last Friday, injuring several students and a teacher. Corroded metal clips that held the ceiling together are believed to have given way.

"It was a pretty common construction method back then," said Richard Soo, the DOE's director of safety services.

Soo said the DOE will compile lists of schools built around that time, as well as those that currently have leaky roofs or other moisture problems and those located near the ocean. Any schools with all three criteria will head to the top of the list for safety inspections.

"The fact is, our schools are aging. Period. So superintendent (Pat Hamamoto) wants to have a true snapshot of the schools," Soo said.

Kailua Intermediate students stayed home yesterday as school staff prepared for their return today with 10 fewer instruction rooms available in the school's C Wing. Typically, the school holds classes in 60 classrooms. A structural engineering firm deemed the 10 rooms unsafe, but said the rest of the school is okay.

C Wing's roof was ripped off during a windy rainstorm last winter, which might have contributed to the corrosion problem.

Yesterday, movers were relocating desks and other equipment to nine other rooms not currently being used for classes. The school's library also will be drafted into classroom duty.

"This has been a big disruption on campus, but we're trying to make it feel as natural as possible for the students," Principal Suzanne Mulcahy said.

The school's second semester will begin on time Jan. 25, but all students will be given an extra week to submit final class projects and other assignments from the first semester.

More disruption could lie ahead, though. Kailua Intermediate was to undergo re-accreditation by the Western Association of Schools & Colleges this year, but Mulcahy said the school might ask for a postponement.

She's also heard "some rumblings" about parents wanting to withdraw their students from the school, and said the picture should become clearer after students return today.

The structural engineering consultants, Nagamine & Associates, said yesterday that shoring up the affected rooms would cost about $25,000 apiece and that it will take about two to three weeks.

If widespread repair work is required across the school system, the state's roughly $460 million backlog in repair and maintenance work could worsen.

Deputy Superintendent Clayton Fujie said that the ceiling and roof work has been made a top priority, adding, "Whenever something becomes priority No. 1, something else becomes priority No. 2."

Soo said the DOE also is likely to change its system of annual school structural inspections, normally carried out by school staff and volunteers, to include structural experts.

But Kailua Intermediate's top priority now is to help students get back on track, said Katie Vaughan, who was teaching in room C 219 when the roof fell in.

Her back still hurts "like crazy" she said, while taking posters off the wall to move them to her science class's new location, but adds that she'll be focusing on reassuring her students today.

"They need to know that the room they'll be in is safe and they don't need to look at the ceiling every five minutes," she said.

State Department of Education

E-mail to City Desk


© Honolulu Star-Bulletin -- https://archives.starbulletin.com