Philadelphia School Building Conditions - Joint Committees on Education & Public Safety

Office of the City Controller
City of Philadelphia
Testimony at the Joint Committees on Education 
and Public Safety
April 7, 2016

Good afternoon Council members.  I am City Controller Alan Butkovitz and I am here today to discuss the findings from our Office’s reviews of building conditions at the School District of Philadelphia.

Since taking Office in 2006, I have made it a priority to conduct frequent inspections of school facilities. The primary objective when performing this work is to provide not only an independent report of the current state of conditions but recommendations that can influence positive changes.

In 2006, and again in 2008, the Controller’s Office randomly inspected many schools throughout the Philadelphia School District.

Some of the specific findings at that time included the following:
•    Vermin infestation, fire hazards, and structural problems,  at Mc Daniel elementary School;
•    Clogged air vents, electrical hazards, and water damage at G.W. Carver High School;
•    HVAC issues, plumbing problems, and fire hazards at Daniel Boone School;
•    Clogged urinals, cracked pavements creating tripping hazards, and missing fire exit signs, at Dimner Beeber Middle School;
•    Broken windows with missing glass, asbestos at the air handler, and light fixtures improperly hung, at Grover Cleveland Elementary School;

The full reports are available on our website with each school visited and its individual issues defined.

Unfortunately, when we conducted our latest review issued June 2015, we found many of the same conditions.

We reviewed 20 selected schools from across the city and uncovered several conditions that were deemed hazardous, unhealthy – and downright deplorable.  It is unfathomable to think that teachers and children are subject to these conditions in our city’s learning environments.

Some of the specific findings included the following:
•    A pipe containing exposed asbestos in a hallway traveled by students and staff near the lunchroom was found at Francis Scott Key Elementary;
•    Unsanitary conditions in bathrooms, including cockroaches at Central High School and urinals that did not drain at Dimner Beeber Middle School;
•    Almost all of the schools had water damage, including a few with mold on ceiling tiles and mechanical rooms that were flooded;
•    About 75 percent had fire safety hazards, including expired fire extinguishers and blocked fire exits; and
•    The Majority had electrical hazards, including exposed live wires and an open electrical panel.

With that said, there was an upside to counter these bleak findings.  Unlike prior
School District Administrations that did not feel it was necessary to utilize our reports, Superintendent Dr. Hite and his team made a coordinated effort to make several necessary repairs and improvements over the summer break before the students returned to school.

The School District encapsulated the exposed asbestos, properly sealed and plastered ceilings, removed moldy tiles, fixed leaking mechanical equipment, repaired broken electrical outlets and installed industry-standard outlets and fixed and cleaned the clogged drains in the bathrooms.

I can assuredly say that our latest report spurred the most action by a School Administration over the last 10 years.  

However, while many of the minor repairs have been addressed, there is still much work that needs to be done to fix the major items.  Many of these issues have been ongoing and not addressed for years.  As a result, they have become much larger problems now.  

A roof that goes without the proper maintenance for an extended period of time can eventually turn a small leak into a major ceiling collapse.  An old boiler that does not operate properly can cause harm to children, teachers, and maintenance employees such as with Chris Trakimas who was severely burned at the F.S. Edmonds School in January.  

From the 20 schools we visited, we estimated that the major repairs would cost at least $10 million.

We all understand the School District continues to face financial constraints.  At the same time, it must provide a safe, sanitary learning environment for everyone.

The longer these issues go unattended, the more severe and costly they will become.