Main­te­nance de­ferred

With­out fund­ing, prob­lems can grow like ... mold

Stamford Advocate (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Erin Kay­ata

STAM­FORD — Fa­cil­ity needs re­ports from al­most 10 years ago warned of the mold now plagu­ing Stam­ford Pub­lic Schools.

At least seven of the Stam­ford pub­lic school build­ings where mold has been found dur­ing the past sev­eral months were flagged for mold as­sess­ments dur­ing the dis­trict’s last fa­cil­ity needs study, per­formed in 2009.

A look at the main­te­nance rec­om­mended in the study, com­pared to what the city ac­tu­ally spent to shore up the build­ings could show why Stam­ford got to the point where the dis­trict needed to shut down a school. The re­port from con­sul­tant EMG called for about $138 mil­lion in cap­i­tal im­prove­ments, less than half of which the schools have seen.

Out­go­ing Board of Ed­u­ca­tion Chair­man David Man­nis said the dis­trict, often given about $4 mil­lion to $5 mil­lion to spread across 20 build­ings, usu­ally fa­vored spend­ing on more press­ing is­sues like se­cu­rity up­grades.

“What we re­al­is­ti­cally

hope to get will be de­voted to build­ing safety is­sues and com­pli­ance is­sues,” he said. “Mold con­cerns drove us to say, ‘What caused it?’ and that led us (now) to look at, for ex­am­ple, win­dow leaks. But in past years, they were just win­dow leaks and didn’t get at­ten­tion . ... A lot of these things have been around and they didn’t seem as ur­gent be­cause peo­ple hadn’t iden­ti­fied that con­nec­tion prop­erly.”

Ac­cord­ing to the city’s Mold Task Force web­site, mold has been found in the fol­low­ing ele­men­tary schools: Daven­port Ridge, Hart Mag­net, Ju­lia A. Stark, K.T. Mur­phy, Newfield, North­east, Roxbury, Springdale, Stillmeadow, To­quam Mag­net and Westover Mag­net.

Mold has also been found in Cloo­nan Mid­dle School, Scofield Mag­net Mid­dle School, Turn of River Mid­dle School, Rogers In­ter­na­tional School, Straw­berry Hill School and Westhill High School, as well as the Ap­ples Early Child­hood Ed­u­ca­tional Cen­ter lo­cated in Rip­powam Mid­dle School and the Al­ter­na­tive Routes to Suc­cess LEAP pro­gram housed on Lock­wood Av­enue.

An Oct. 1 re­port from the schools also showed mold had been re­ported in the au­di­to­rium of Rip­powam Mid­dle School.

Of these, Cloo­nan, Newfield, North­east, the old Rogers, Turn of River, To­quam, Westover and Westhill were rec­om­mended for mold and mois­ture as­sess­ments to pre­vent fu­ture mold prob­lems.

In some cases, the nineyear-old re­port was like a crys­tal ball gaz­ing onto trou­ble to come. EMG high­lighted bur­geon­ing prob­lems at sev­eral schools that have grown into full blown mold in­fes­ta­tions.

In 2009, for ex­am­ple, it was rec­om­mended that Cloo­nan wrap drain pipes be­low the bath­room with in­su­la­tion. The Mold Task Force’s re­cent re­port on the school showed stained ceil­ings un­der the unin­su­lated pipes. In an­other case, mois­ture was found around the North­east Me­dia Cen­ter from an ac­tive roof leak. Now the build­ing has wa­ter stains and black growth on the same ceil­ing tiles nine years later.

Many of the schools also were equipped with no or in­con­sis­tent HVAC sys­tems, the EMG re­port noted.

School board mem­bers said they tried to im­ple­ment what the con­sul­tants sug­gested, but never got the money needed to do so.

“We ref­er­enced the EMG re­port quite often to other boards,” said Ge­off Al­swanger, who served on the Stam­ford Board of Ed­u­ca­tion from 2010 to 2017. “It called for ($138 mil­lion) worth of work, and his­tory will show the cap­i­tal bud­get of the Board of Ed has been very con­strained by the city over many years.”

Al­swanger said dur­ing his time on the board, he only heard of mold in the porta­bles at To­quam.

Bud­get doc­u­ments dat­ing back over the past seven years show dras­tic slashes to Board of Ed­u­ca­tion cap­i­tal fund re­quests.

For fis­cal year 2010-11, for ex­am­ple, two years af­ter the EMG as­sess­ment, the school board re­quested $21.7 mil­lion for cap­i­tal projects. That money was tar­geted to­ward many needs, not just mold re­lated. The bud­get in­cluded re­quests to re­place the in­ter­coms at Newfield, Stam­ford High, Dolan and Roxbury, se­cu­rity code com­pli­ance, dis­trict-wide as­bestos abate­ment and elec­tri­cal up­grades, fire and safety ren­o­va­tions,

“I don’t specif­i­cally re­mem­ber any­body say­ing to us ‘Hey, if we don’t get the money, there’s go­ing to be a mold prob­lem.’ That’s some­thing we would’ve moved right away to the top of the pri­or­ity list.”

Jay Tep­per, Plan­ning Board

im­prove­ments to light­ing and HVAC equip­ment, wa­ter­proof­ing the Stam­ford High ex­te­rior, dis­trictwide roof re­place­ment, en­ergy ef­fi­ciency projects, car­pet re­place­ment and air-qual­ity im­prove­ment.

The school board ended up be­ing awarded about $5 mil­lion — $1.45 mil­lion of which went to­ward ren­o­vat­ing and restor­ing Boyle Sta­dium.

The most schools have re­ceived in cap­i­tal fund­ing since 2011 was about $10.2 mil­lion in the 2012-13 fis­cal year. Nearly $2 mil­lion of this went to­ward re­plac­ing win­dows, re­pair­ing para­pet walls and cracks and wa­ter in­fil­tra­tion at Dolan. An­other $1.2 mil­lion went to­ward re­plac­ing air con­di­tion­ing units and ven­ti­la­tors around the city.

But as a re­sult of the rel­a­tively “large” cap­i­tal bud­get that year, the only cap­i­tal money the city spent on ed­u­ca­tion the fol­low­ing year was $85,000 to up­date the roof of the Palmers Hill lo­ca­tion of the Chil­dren’s Learn­ing Cen­ter. The roof was so rot­ted that the cap­i­tal bud­get re­quest said ro­dents, birds and bees were get­ting in through it and nest­ing in the build­ing. The Board of Ed­u­ca­tion didn’t get any cap­i­tal money for its build­ings that year.

Ac­cord­ing to Jay Tep­per, who has served on the Plan­ning Board, which drafts the cap­i­tal bud­get, for more than 14 years, the amount the city can spend on cap­i­tal projects spread across all de­part­ments is de­pen­dent on a num­ber of fac­tors, in­clud­ing the safe debt limit.

“We’ve cut lots from the Board of Ed­u­ca­tion bud­get,” Tep­per said. “How­ever, if we’d given them ev­ery­thing they re­quested, the city would be in dire fi­nan­cial straits. They don’t ex­pect to get all they ask for.”

Cap­i­tal re­quests rep­re­sent a “wish list,” he said.

“Then it’s left for us to pare that down to what we think is es­sen­tial for health, safety and ed­u­cat­ing the kids,” Tep­per said. “I don’t specif­i­cally re­mem­ber any­body say­ing to us ‘Hey, if we don’t get the money, there’s go­ing to be a mold prob­lem.’ That’s some­thing we would’ve moved right away to the top of the pri­or­ity list. If you let mold start, you’re go­ing to spend a lot more re­me­di­at­ing than pre­vent­ing.”

Mayor David Martin said the city must not re­peat pat­terns that re­sulted in its cur­rent sit­u­a­tion.

“We have an­other is­sue, which is how do we as a city en­sure we don’t let de­ferred main­te­nance over­whelm us?” he said. “We need to find a way to en­sure that hap­pens when the nat­u­ral ten­dency is to keep putting things off un­til they be­come a cri­sis. That’s some­thing that’s im­por­tant to me and it’s im­por­tant to cit­i­zens. We need to find a way to en­sure that we don’t let de­ferred main­te­nance rise to the point where it over­whelms us.”

So far this year, the schools have been fast ap­proach­ing their bud­get due in part to the mold cri­sis.

“Our cur­rent es­ti­mate is for a bal­anced bud­get, but due to cur­rent trends (we) feel that fis­cal pru­dence is in or­der,” dis­trict Di­rec­tor of Fi­nance Hugh Mur­phy wrote in the schools’ firstquar­ter fis­cal re­port. “Bud­get vari­ances in main­te­nance, spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion and cen­tral re-or­ga­ni­za­tion are stretch­ing the 2018-19 bud­get thin.”

Mur­phy rec­om­mended “dis­cre­tionary spend­ing” and “cost man­age­ment” in spe­cial ed­u­ca­tion and build­ing main­te­nance, as well as a freeze in over­time salaries. He also said the dis­trict should seek ad­di­tional fund­ing for mold re­me­di­a­tion from the Board of Fi­nance.

Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia file photo

Scofield Mag­net Mid­dle School in 2015. Scofield was one of many Stam­ford schools where mold was found in the build­ing.

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