- The Washington Times - Friday, February 29, 2008

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and school facilities chief Allen Y. Lew yesterday pledged to eliminate a backlog of fire and health code violations in D.C. Public Schools by summer and said that all schools will have adequate air conditioning by spring.

“These are things that should have been done a long time ago, and the mayor’s challenged us to get these things fixed,” said Mr. Lew, executive director of the city’s Office of Public Education Facilities Modernization.

The initiatives are primarily funded through a $120 million school-stabilization program announced by Mr. Fenty last year.

Efforts to fix the code violations follow a pilot project by the facilities office that installed updated security systems in nine public schools, including Ballou and Anacostia high schools and Bruce Johnson Middle School in Southeast.

The security work cost $700,000 per school and included the installation of computerized systems to control exterior doors, as well as panic bars on doors that can be opened in an emergency.

In the past, doors at Ballou and other city schools were secured with padlocks or chains, a violation of fire code.

“The doors were just locked,” said Mr. Fenty, a Democrat. “There was no way to get out of the doors if you needed to, and of course that’s against the law — you can’t do that.”

Officials will now work to correct code violations as they identify which schools need similar security measures installed, and the facilities office is seeking contractors to help fix the problems by June 30.

When Mr. Fenty took over the school system in June, there were nearly 2,500 outstanding fire code violations. There were 1,104 facilities-related fire code violations in 33 city schools in November, officials said, and 551 had been abated through yesterday.

“Sometimes it’s something like a sign that’s not lit or something, or maybe a fire extinguisher wasn’t mounted properly,” Mr. Lew said. “And those are important, so we’re taking care of those.”

The air conditioning upgrades also are similar to the city’s successful effort to ensure all boilers in the schools were working properly by the start of winter.

Mr. Lew said about half of the District’s 144 public schools have central air conditioning that require preventive maintenance. Roughly 40 more have window units to cool the buildings, and some schools have classrooms with no air conditioning at all.

In past years, school officials have canceled classes as temperatures soared and summer approached. Students have taken tests in the dark because the classroom lights were turned off to make it cooler, and sweated out teaching sessions with homemade fans.

“We know how critical it is to make sure … the facilities be of a standard [so] that the young people can learn,” Mr. Fenty said. “That cannot happen when there is not proper air conditioning or heating.”

Officials will replace window units in some schools, install them in others and work to upgrade electrical systems to support the cooling components.

Mr. Lew said some schools also will receive temporary electrical upgrades because of the amount of work that needs to be done and so the cooling systems can be installed. The school system has contracted with three companies to ensure the project is complete by late spring or early summer.

Mr. Lew also said the facilities office is continuing efforts to eliminate the school system’s backlog of work orders for repairs and maintenance.

He said about 80 percent of the nearly 11,000 orders since June have been filled. But workers have discovered more problems that were not filed by school officials, and the facilities office received more than 7,500 new work requests from June through January.

School officials also expect to begin preparations in late April for Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee’s school consolidation plan, which involves closing 23 city schools.

The preparations — which involve making sure schools are ready to receive additional students, converting some schools to pre-kindergarten through eighth grade and securing schools to be closed — will cost $110.9 million in capital funding from the facilities office’s fiscal 2008 budget.

Facilities spokesman Tony Robinson said planned upgrades like the air conditioning repairs also will apply to schools slated to be closed.

“Even though we’re going to close those buildings, we still have to make sure for the remainder of the school year that the A/C works,” Mr. Robinson said. “It makes more sense to have working systems than not.”

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