Leading from the Left

Friday, December 19, 2008

Leaking Roofs Tell the Story

Some things you have to see for yourself to believe.

I recently took a tour of about a half dozen schools, mainly older facilities, in the Chapel Hill Carrboro school system. Because the County Commissioners fund the school systems' budgets, it's important for me to see first hand what the parents, teachers, and school administrators are complaining about. I took a similar tour of facilities in the Orange County School system a while back and wanted to assess the situation in the city schools.

Boy, am I glad I did.

Fortunately, it was a rainy day. The rain provided "opportunities" to see the challenges students and teachers face in many of our older schools. At two schools we visited, staff were using sand bags to keep water from flooding classrooms. I was told that they have to put out sandbags every time it rains, otherwise water will enter the rooms.

And several schools had significant problems with leaking roofs. Phillips Middle School had the most dramatic roof issues of the facilities I visited that day. The roof over the intercom system was leaking, causing staff to wrap the intercom server in plastic and plop a garbage can on top to catch the rain. And as the principal pointed out, the expense of replacing a ruined intercom systems would have been enormous.

But more troubling than the leak over the intercom system was the leak in the main hallway as you entered the school. This is a high traffic area, and water was running onto the floor at a steady pace. In what amounts to huge waste of staff resources, someone had to stand watch to make sure no one fell, to mop up water, and to ensure as safe a travel zone as possible under the circumstances.

And speaking of liability issues waiting to happen, the Phillip's principal reported that water had entered the area in which the fire alarm system is housed, and she'd been afraid all day that the fire alarm would short out.

These are just a few examples of what I saw, and unfortunately conditions are similar in the Orange County School district. The challenge, of course, is where to find the money to make repairs at a time when the school district is faced with needing to build a new elementary school next year at a cost of $35 million and a new middle school in a couple of years at an estimated cost of $54 million. Additionally, the parents and students at Carrboro High School are, rightly, requesting that the Arts wing be constructed as promised.

This is going to be a difficult budget year, as you all can imagine from reading about the recession in the papers. However, these facility needs must be met somehow. It's just going to take some creative thinking to get there, given our current circumstances.

As we close out the year, I thank the you all for your input this year. I remain impressed at the thoughtful and articulate arguments raised by our citizens as the Board of County Commissioners grappled with tough issues. In particular, I thank those of you who took the time to communicate with me about siting a waste transfer station. This was a difficult decision for the BoCC, and your input along the way these past several years was most helpful. In particular I thank the residents of the Roger's Road community, their friends, and advocates, for being persistent.

Please have a safe and happy holiday season.