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Some news items come from the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF).
Asbestos Contributes to Overall Failing Grades of New Jersey School District According to Architect Reports
Kristen Griffin , Mesothelioma.com
May 21, 2013
-- Hamilton, New Jersey - A damning report rocked a community in New Jersey this week after the results revealed that virtually every school in the school district is facing considerable – and oftentimes, dangerous – problems. The architectural firm of Fraytak Veisz Hopkins Duthie explored each school in the Hamilton, New Jersey area and found that nearly half of the schools were contaminated with the lethal toxin asbestos and other schools failed to meet federal accessibility standards.
However, the litany of issues now facing the Hamilton school district is far more comprehensive than just asbestos and accessibility concerns. Out of the twenty four schools, the architectural firm granted three Hamilton schools grades of “A.”
Unfortunately for school administrators and school board members, the failing conditions of the buildings did not come as a shock. In 2010, the school district was forced to cut $16 million from its overall budget in order to meet new regulations issued by the state. Reducing routine maintenance of school facilities was one of the tough budgetary decisions school district officials had to make.
According to Jeff Hewitson, school board president, this “rob Peter to pay Paul” mentality left the school district in disarray.
Among the faults found by the architectural firms include spacing issues, not enough bathroom facilities to meet the students and faculty needs, not enough emergency exits and electrical system problems. The ages of the school buildings range from over one hundred years old to facilities considered “newer,” clocking in at just under a half of a century. Even the schools that received passing grades – B's and C's – have a number of structural concerns.
Emergency officials talk about tornado preparedness
Mary Jo Denton , Herald-Citizen
May 21, 2013
-- PUTNAM COUNTY — Could it happen here?
As the nation grieves with Oklahoma, that question may be on many minds, especially concerning school buildings in relation to monster storms.
Of course, such a tornado could happen here or anywhere else, but emergency officials here say this area may be less likely to suffer such a storm.
They also say that schools here have undergone extensive training in preparedness.
“Tornadoes of the magnitude of the one in Oklahoma yesterday are not common in Middle Tennessee,” said Putnam County Emergency Management Agency Director Tyler Smith.
“But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. It’s just that typically because of our terrain and weather patterns, we just don’t see too many big storms like the one in Oklahoma.”
Smith said the CPCEMA works closely with Putnam schools to designate safe areas inside the school buildings here.
“There is never a completely safe area, but typically, the students and staff are safer inside the block school buildings than they are at their homes or in another office building or in cars.
“Of course, a direct hit on a school building, especially of the magnitude it was in Oklahoma, is something we can never prevent. But we want parents to understand that school buildings are much stronger than most homes, and we are using the strongest parts of those buildings as our shelter areas.”
He said schools here also benefit from training with the local emergency services agencies in a program called School Emergency Response Team (SERT), a concept developed here.
Baltimore County hires consultant to assess facilities needs
Erica L. Green, The Baltimore Sun
May 20, 2013
-- The Baltimore County school system has hired a local architecture firm to help document its long-term school facilities needs, following a similar strategy the city school system used to generate a $2.4 billion plan and secure some of that funding from the General Assembly.
The county school board entered into a $500,000 contract with GWWO Inc./Architects last month to help take an inventory of the second-oldest school infrastructure in the state. The county's school buildings suffer from overcrowding and a lack of air conditioning, and its overall needs are estimated to be at least $1.7 billion.
In a letter Wednesday to the state's Board of Public Works, schools Superintendent Dallas Dance said the county hired the company in "an exciting undertaking," adding it was "not the easy path. We could continue to simply address single facility issues year after year."
Dance initially intended for the district's chief operating officer to lead an in-house comprehensive study, and the consultant was brought in as the process got under way, according to his spokesman, who added that Dance monitored the city's plan as it made its way through the General Assembly.
The General Assembly approved a $1 billion plan that will pay for about 15 new city schools and renovate about 35 others over the next six years, after the city paid $1 million to Jacobs Project Management to assess and outline the needs of every school building in Baltimore.
The Jacobs assessment laid the foundation for a 10-year plan that would close 26 buildings, end or relocate 29 programs, and renovate or rebuild 136 facilities.
Tucson Unified School District closes 11 schools to cope with huge budget shortfall
Steve Shadley , KJZZ
May 20, 2013
-- Many Arizona public school students start their summer vacation this week, but it is a bittersweet time for school districts facing massive budget shortfalls and a lot of uncertainty about the level of state funding they will receive next school year.
We are offering a series of reports about the financial challenges some Arizona public schools are facing. Our first report focuses on the budget woes of Tucson Unified School District which is closing 11 schools this summer.
TUSD is one of the largest public school districts in the state with more than 50,000 students. TUSD Governing Board President Adelita Grijalva said it has been confronted with some serious financial problems and declining enrollment.
“We’ve had a decline of about ten-thousand students in the ten years that I’ve been on the board," Grijalva said.
Grijalva is leading efforts to reduce the district’s $17 million budget shortfall. Tax revenues for the district shrunk dramatically when Tucson property values plummeted during the recession. Plus, Grijalva said what was once a reliable money stream for TUSD has nearly dried up.
“Over the last ten years, the state has cut funding for TUSD significantly so we’ve had about a $50-million drop in funding," Grijalva said.
State funding for TUSD is partly based on enrollment, but TUSD’s Superintendent John Pedicone said the district has seen far fewer students because of Arizona’s tough immigration policies.
“In this district with the population that we serve some of the legal implications of laws like 10-70 affected this whole region, with many of our Latino families reconsidering locating here in Tucson and Arizona quite frankly," Pedicone said.
D.C. to make up to 16 vacant schools available for charters
Matt Connolly, Washington Examiner
District of Columbia:
May 20, 2013
-- District Mayor Vincent Gray announced Monday that 16 former public school buildings would be made available for public charters and other community organizations to use.
The move comes amidst growing demand for charter school spots in the city. Roughly 22,000 students were on public charter waitlists this year, up from about 15,000 last year, the Public Charter School Board announced earlier this month.
Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith said that financial stability and academic achievement are the top criteria in determining which schools get buildings. Interested schools must outline their proposals by submitting an inquiry form.
"We're looking for charter schools that are serving kids well," Smith said. "We want schools that have some kind of record for performance."
Charters have to find their own facilities, which can leave them operating out of less-than-optimal locations like storefronts and churches. Charter elementary schools on average have 53 percent less square feet per student than traditional public schools, according to the DC Public Charter School Board. Charter middle schools average 72 percent less square feet per student, while charter high schools average 39 percent less.
"Whenever [charters] go into the commercial market, it's costly, and they frequently aren't able to afford enough space for their students," said Robert Cane, executive director of charter advocacy group Friends of Choice in Urban Schools. "They can have crowded classrooms, no playgrounds or playing fields, often no cafeteria or gym."
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