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Ceiling Repairs At Hartford's McDonough School To Cost $80,000


July 10, 2013

HARTFORD Repairs at McDonough Expeditionary Learning School after last month's partial ceiling collapse are expected to cost $80,000 and should be completed before students return in August, school officials said.

A section of the ceiling in McDonough's room 219, and a lighting fixture attached to it, fell June 6 while class was in session, leaving a teaching intern and 13-year-old student with minor injuries. The district has decided to replace four classroom ceilings, including the one that collapsed.

About $51,000 has already been spent on the work, which includes new lighting and adjusting the fire sprinkler system in those classrooms, said Claudio Bazzano, the school system's executive director of facilities. The district sent an "extraordinary circumstances" request to the city to expedite funding.

Days after the June incident, the school board formed an ad hoc committee to investigate the condition of city school buildings this summer. On Monday, that group met for the first time to get an update on McDonough and begin discussing the possibility of a professional, districtwide facilities study that could cost between $80,000 and $100,000.

An inspection at McDonough revealed that room 219 is one of only four classrooms, all in a cluster on the second floor, with the same type of ceiling Sheetrock with a half-inch of plaster that is "nailed up," Bazzano said. The collapse occurred when the weight of the ceiling pulled the nails out.

While McDonough underwent a $15 million renovation in the mid-1990s, a review of records showed that the cluster was not one of the areas renovated, according to Bazzano. He estimated that the last time that part of the building might have been touched up was the 1950s.

A structural engineer who assessed the damage recommended screwing the ceilings back in place, but the district decided to install new acoustical ceilings, Bazzano said.

"We didn't want to take the chance that it would happen again in the future," he said.

The fear of lurking safety issues was a major element of Monday's meeting. Among the topics: how the schools prioritize repairs and what school staff can do to help create a culture of vigilance.

"We need to be less reactive and more proactive," said board member Richard Wareing, the committee chairman.

Wareing noted that there are several school buildings without fire sprinklers, including Milner, M.L. King, Simpson-Waverly and Clark. Administrators said the latter two schools are expected to have sprinklers installed by early next year.

Overall, there are 43 buildings across the district for a short-staffed maintenance crew, said Bazzano, one of the committee members. There are 26 people who work for him; it used to be a 61-employee department before the district cut staff around 2005 to shrink the central office, he said.

"It's the decreased funds and the decreased flexible funding that has been a struggle in this district," Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said. "How do we maintain our resources and do things differently?

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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