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Beyond repair

South Boston NewsSouth Boston News
Top, The open-air sewage pond at Park View Middle School lies in close proximity to the building. Above, Only one of the two broken boilers at Park View Middle is fixable, according to maintenance director Brian Dalton. Currently, the school has no heating source heading into the winter. (Susan Kyte photos)
SoVaNow.com / August 30, 2017
Broken urinals, toilet stalls with no doors, showers without showerheads, asbestos ceiling and floor tiles, the stench of mold and mildew — these are the conditions that Mecklenburg County students in high school and middle school deal with every day.

At Park View Middle School, students inhale the foul odor of raw sewage from the school’s open-air sewage treatment pond as they head off to classes in broken-down trailers with rotting floors.

All four secondary schools in Mecklenburg County have the same type of wastewater treatment facility, but at Park View Middle School the sewage pond is located in especially close proximity to the school building.

None of the schools — not Bluestone, not Park View — has functioning showers in the main buildings for students who take phys ed.

“I am sickened by what I see,” said South Hill school trustee Gavin Honeycutt. “I can’t believe this has been allowed to happen to our children.”

Members of the Board of Supervisors and School Board saw these problems first-hand on Monday as they toured all four Park View and Bluestone buildings with Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols and Director of Maintenance Brian Dalton.

Nichols explained that he and Dalton thought it was critical for county decision-makers to be reminded of the dire straits of the four school facilities as they begin their debate over where to locate the county’s new combined high school-middle school complex.

Ahead of Monday’s tour, Dalton prepared a summary of the challenges that he and his maintenance team must deal with just to keep a roof over the head of students in grades 6-12 — and to ward off water, rodents and other damaging elements.

Dalton noted that his staff must do more than carry out regular maintenance — they’ve become exterminators and critter control experts. Recently, the staff was called on to remove a snake that got trapped on a sticky sheet that was originally laid down to catch mice. Last week, workers trapped two skunks living under one of the classroom trailers at Park View Middle School.

Dalton shared the report with county officials who joined the tour — school trustees Gavin Honeycutt, Wanda Bailey, Kenny Johnson and Dora Garner, and supervisors Glenn Barbour, Glanzy Spain, David Brankley, Claudia Lundy and Gregg Gordon — as members of the group spent the day observing conditions at the broken-down buildings that have served students in Mecklenburg County for more than 60 years.

The existing roofs at all four schools are over 20 years old and have reached the end of their useful life, Dalton said, adding “this is by far the most critical of all issues at each of the school sites.” In 2014, two separate roofing contractors reviewed the integrity of the school roofs and determined that all of them were failing. Now three years later, Dalton said the problems with the roofs and the number of leaks has only increased.

It will take upwards of $3 million just to repair the roofs, Dalton said. The last estimates that the division received for the work came in 2014, with Gupton Insulation offering an estimate of $2.33 million, and Rob Moore Metal Roof and Building Consultants pegging the cost at $2.48 million.

Right now, Dalton said his team is scrambling to repair one of the two broken boilers at Park View Middle School. The building will have no heat come fall and winter if at least one boiler is not repaired or replaced.

There is asbestos in many areas of the schools; the hazardous substance is contained in floor tiles, and in the glue and grout of ceramic tiles, in keeping with 1950s-era construction practices. For now, the asbestos is sealed off and does not pose a respiratory hazard, Dalton explained, but as floors crumble and the ceilings give way the asbestos could be released into the air, creating a major health risk.

Stepping into one of only two boys’ bathrooms in the main building at Park View High School, which serves nearly 400 students, supervisors chairman Glenn Barbour was both surprised and disappointed to see cracked urinals. They’re the same ones he used when attending Park View High School in the 1970s, Barbour said.

The girls’ bathrooms were no better. Stalls lack privacy doors and two of the six toilets are out of order.

Water fountains at Bluestone Middle School have large buckets placed underneath them to catch water that leaks from the pipes and the fountains.

Overcrowding exists at both east-end schools — Park View High School has 790 students and Park View Middle School has 614 — which means that students are divided into four groups for lunch. Sixth graders at Park View Middle School are required to eat lunch at 10:30 a.m.

Principal Nancy Riddell said these early lunch students are allowed and encouraged to eat a snack during their fourth block classes — the last period of the day — because many of them won’t arrive home until after 4:30 p.m. Six hours is just too long for them to go without food, Riddell explained.

Principals at all four schools complained of classrooms that flood during rainstorms, inadequate lighting and ventilation, heating systems that fail, gymnasiums and classrooms that lack air conditioning and plumbing lines that are so old they’ve disintegrated.

Speaking generally to the group, which included members of the press, after hearing the litany of problems at each school, Trustee Wanda Bailey asked, “Would you want to go to school here?”

An issue that prompted great concern among trustees and supervisors was the lack of security, particularly in this era of school shootings and violence.

Windows in all four school buildings are single pane construction; all four schools lack safety glass. Several classrooms have no emergency button to press for help, and for those that do, the buttons are tied to the school’s old intercom system. If the intercoms are disabled, so are the panic buttons.

Dalton said the logical solution would be to install phones that work off the internet WiFi networks that run into each school. But besides the problem of expense, Dalton said the existing WiFi cannot accommodate the number of phones needed.

Dalton pointed out several other problems: Existing security cameras and DVR systems are outdated and would provide a very fuzzy image of a potential assailant, at best. There are not enough security cameras at any of the schools, and the layout of each campus is very open, allowing access by an intruder at numerous points.

In two of the schools, the nurse’s office had to be relocated in an old classroom. There is little privacy for students and no sink, bathroom or running water in the room.

With the renewed emphasis on Career and Technical Education, CTE coordinator Gary Cifers pointed out several limitations faced by students in the various programs.

The nursing education classroom is not large enough to accommodate the number of students enrolled in the class, nor will it adequately hold the equipment that students use to obtain their CNA certificates. Also due to space constraints, the lab area where students practice working with dummy patients has only three-four beds.

The JROTC program at Park View may be in jeopardy because the school facility does not meet the standards set by the Air Force, Major Bonnie Hoffman told members of the tour group. Among other deficiencies, Park View does not have the mandated 400 square feet of climatically controlled storage space for uniforms, drill rifles and miscellaneous equipment, and the JROTC drill space is not unobstructed nor free of vehicular and pedestrian traffic. (Students do their training drills in the bus parking lot.) Furthermore, Hoffman does not have a private office which is required should students need counselling.

The Air Force could shut down the JROTC program because of these issues, Hoffman explained.

Students taking agriculture, auto mechanics, or carpentry work in rooms that lack air conditioning and proper ventilation. They also have no separate classroom space, insufficient storage space for lumber and supplies, and a non-functioning dust collection system.

Any time the school division looks to add a new program, such as the new TEALS computer class, they have to “rob” classroom space from some other program or room. This limits the number of students who can participate in the program at any given time.

Speaking afterwards, Nichols said he hoped the tour would serve to open the eyes of both supervisors and trustees on the urgency of getting started on a new consolidated school facility.

While Nichols did not directly address the immediate issue between the two boards — where to build the new school — one school administrator who asked not to be named said the tour underscored the point that there’s no time for long debates over the site selection. The sooner that decision is made, the sooner the school division can move forward with designs for one new facility to replace four that were built many generations earlier.

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Comments

I have children in one of these schools. It is a shame that this community cannot come together and agree on the best situation for our future, our students. Do the right thing!! The county was given the site where the old jail was across from Microsoft. It has plenty of land, the electric, internet, water, etc. already there plus a paved road!! Hello does this not make sense and save the money that would be spent on land to put more into the school. Not to mention this site is about as close to center for all students from all ends of the county. Do the right thing and get it started. My students will not be able to utilize the new school, but for future classes and generations. We should be ashamed that we let this get this bad for this long!

Comments

For years and years taxpayers in Meck county have been paying taxes for upkeep of these schools. I believe their needs to be an investigation to see where this money has been spent because it's obvious it has not been spent on these schools. These schools were in dire straights when I attended in the 90's and someone needs to be held accountable.

Comments

What a true testament to how dysfunctional Mecklenburg County is. How long have rich land owning politicians sat on boards and said no to anything the school asked for?These schools have been falling apart for decades and only NOW have they taken a tour? How many of the traditional nay sayers actually showed up for this tour? How many times has the Board of Supervisors voted against schools to keep taxes low in order to save themselves money while they sent their own children to private schools? Funny how Glenn Barbour, who often votes against school funding, hasn't been in a disgusting MCPS bathroom since he peed in a broken urinal in the 1970's. Gee, why are our schools failing? Oh that's right, it must be the teachers....NOT!!!!


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