- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

As many as 15,000 D.C. public school students were affected this week when aging school buildings succumbed to the frigid weather sweeping through the region, officials said yesterday.

Four schools were closed and about 30 others were forced to crowd students into warm, undamaged wings of school buildings.

The Board of Education made $900,000 immediately available for a “blitz” of repairs to the buildings, where problems included burst pipes, leaking radiators, broken valves and pumps, and broken boilers.

Schools Superintendent Clifford B. Janey acknowledged a District-wide problem and said school officials are fighting to get all the buildings up and running as soon as possible.

“The systems are poor, they are anemic, and when you have a lingering cold-weather pattern meeting up with languishing facility repairs, there’s going to be a big, big clash,” Mr. Janey said at an afternoon press conference.

The school board recently announced another “blitz,” this one to perform repairs to bathrooms, windows, water fountains and other components of more than 100 D.C. schools. Mr. Janey said the newest “blitz” would complement the previously announced plan.

About 1,808 students were affected by the closings of Simon Elementary School and Johnson Junior High School in Southeast and Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School and H.D. Woodson High School in Northeast.

Students at those schools will attend classes in other schools while their own buildings are repaired. Most followed existing emergency plans calling for nearby schools to open their doors to the stranded students.

John C. White, a spokesman for Mr. Janey, said all four schools would remain closed today, and Woodson High School will remain closed the entire week. Pipes in the building burst, causing extensive water damage, Mr. White said.

The damage in the other schools is wide-ranging; in some, entire wings are too damaged to use and have been closed. Mr. White estimated that as many as a quarter of the school system’s 58,000 students experienced disruptions as a result of the problems.

The school board hired four private contractors to speed the repairs and is considering hiring three additional contractors, said Kevin Green, the school system’s chief procurement officer. The $900,000 to be used for the repairs will come from the school system’s operating budget.

School board President Robert C. Bobb said he encouraged the superintendent to hire the additional contractors as soon as possible.

“It’s very important that we send a real clear message to the parents and children in the District of Columbia public schools that we are going to provide safe facilities for them,” Mr. Bobb said. “Facilities, boilers, pipes are breaking all across the region, and those things will also happen here in the District of Columbia public schools, given the age of some of our facilities.”

Woodson High, the most badly damaged of the four closed schools, was built in 1972. It was closed Monday. Johnson Junior High was built in 1970, and Simon Elementary was built in 1950. Both schools were closed Tuesday.

Ludlow-Taylor Elementary, built in 1969, was closed yesterday after a pipe burst at 3:30 a.m., said the school’s principal, Donald Presswood. He said he had arranged to have engineers present at the school 24 hours a day during frigid weather to catch problems immediately, which was what happened yesterday morning.

Engineers fixed the pipe and restored heat to the school by about 6 a.m., but officials closed the school as a precautionary measure. Children instead attended class at Stuart-Hobson Middle School and the Prospect Learning Center.

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