City dragging it

Joey Matthews | 8/22/2014, 2:53 p.m.
Officials in no rush to fix schools.
Students from Open High School march along Broad Street in route to City Hall to protest deplorable conditions of some Richmond Public Schools Photo by Sandra Sellars

On Monday, John Marshall High School joined a growing number of city school buildings with a leaky roof.

School officials just discovered the leak in a resource room in the science department, School Board Vice Chair Kristen N. Larson told the Free Press Tuesday.

“A patch job can be (initially) done this week,” the 4th District representative said, but she estimated that up to $250,000 would need to be spent to replace the failing section of the roof.

It’s the latest in a growing number of emergency maintenance needs in city schools as students prepare to return to class from summer vacation.

City leaders have mostly responded in a yawn-like fashion to the critical needs that were made public last week.

Assistant Superintendent Thomas E. Kranz documented to the School Board that $35 million in spending was needed to end maintenance problems that potentially threaten the health and safety of the district’s students, teachers and administrative staff.

“These are things I need right now,” he said, though he noted that only $6 million is available, leaving a $29 million shortfall.

This comes as Richmond’s 23,000 students prepare to return to class Tuesday, Sept. 2, mostly in outdated buildings with failing equipment.

The city’s power players have mostly stressed the need for further study from a school-appointed task force, presentation of a new facilities report and more discussion of plans to address the decades-old and long-known maintenance emergency.

“I took that (report from Mr. Kranz) as an update, to make sure everyone’s aware of the potential challenges that we’re facing,” said Schools Superintendent Dana T. Bedden prior to Monday’s School Board meeting.

He only stepped into his new post in January and recently finished assembling a mostly new school leadership team.

“Clearly, we have to work together and develop a plan,” Dr. Bedden stressed.

“Before I got here, there was a 2002 facilities report, a 2007 facilities reports and a 2012 facilities report,” he added. “Somewhere, we have to take that information, compile it into a comprehensive plan for improvement and then sit down and agree on a way to make it happen.”

On Monday, Mayor Dwight C. Jones weighed in at a press conference.

He said he was aware of the maintenance dilemma. He indicated he would be more open to seeking additional funds to perform the emergency fixes if the school system tightened its budget, closed underused schools and improved student academic performance.

Mayor Jones said he’d await a November report from the community task force comprised of architects, engineers and other professionals that is charged with offering solutions to the decades-old problem.

“I agree that we need proper facilities within which to educate our children,” the mayor noted, reading from a four-page statement.

“Fixing our schools has to be defined beyond improving school buildings, and must include improved outcomes,” he added.

He called for a “comprehensive approach” to solve a myriad of challenges facing RPS.

“The neglect that is now being focused on is neglect that did not happen overnight, and it won’t be fixed overnight,” Mayor Jones stressed.

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