Monday, January 29, 2001

Middletown schools showing age

By Sue Kiesewetter
Enquirer Contributor

        MIDDLETOWN — The two 27-year-old steam boilers that won't pass next year's inspection at Wilson Elementary School are symptomatic of the massive repairs needed in Middletown's 20 aging school facilities, which average 52 years old.

        It is a situation the district twice in the past two years has tried to correct. A $97.4 million bond issue was rejected in February 1999 — when Monroe was part of the district — and a $71 million project was rejected in November after Monroe had become its own district.

        Now, community-based facilities and finance committees are studying the situation and are expected to make recommendations to the Board of Education next month, Superintendent Wayne Driscoll said. The dis trict is also waiting for a report from the Ohio School Facilities Commission on needed repairs and classroom additions.

        Middletown schools would be eligible for about $16 million — or 22 cents of every dollar — in the next eight to 10 years.

        “If anything major happens we take dollars away from something,” Mr. Driscoll said. “When the state audited us, we were praised because we had more money dedicated to direct services for kids than many districts. We don't want to take money away from what we do for kids.”

        Treasurer Edmund Pokora said the district has money in its permanent improvement fund to pay the estimated $180,000 price tag for new boilers but worries there won't be enough if something else happens.

        His concern is valid, said Joe DiStaola, the district's coordinator of business affairs. Of the district's 22 boilers, 11 are in poor condition while six are in fair condition and five are new or in good condition.

        “You can install new boilers but still have problems with the components — circulation pumps, heating coils, dampers and air compressors. A lot of those are original equipment,” Mr. DiStaola said.

        There are serious safety concerns at 17 buildings, including fire alarm systems at 14 that no longer meet code. When they break down it is difficult to find parts to repair them. Rubber roofs installed in the early 1980s are also beginning to fail, he added.

        Failure of a 4-inch hot water line last fall at the former Manchester Technical Center left the building without heat for six days while repairs were made. Fortunately, the weather was still warm, Mr. DiStaola said.

        “It would not surprise me if one day a boiler system or fire alarm system broke down and we couldn't open our doors to students,” Mr. DiStaola said.


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