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Skimping on Maintenance, as Usual

At their Tuesday, July 1, 2008 meeting, School Board members learned that “school HVAC systems (are) in dire straits, according to a report in the online Arlington Sun-Gazette. The paper reported:

“The school system currently is two to three years behind in basic maintenance for heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems. And the concerns are not limited to older schools, task force members said - even the new Washington-Lee High School is at risk.”

In summarizing the report of a HVAC task force, an engineer on the task force told the School Board, “You're spending $90 million on that building (i.e., the new Washington-Lee High School); you need to take care of it.”  The newspaper reported that School Board member Libby Garvey “said she was disheartened, but not surprised.”

In comments responding to the article, Wayne Kubicki wrote on July 2:

“This report is a real indictment of both School staff and every member of the School Board - seemingly going back many years.

“We have seen a rapid increase in per student spending - with the School Board even putting some of its yearly operating funds into the construction of new buildings, supplementing bond funds. Yet day-in, day-out maintenance seems to have been forgotten.

“New buildings mean ribbon cuttings, photo ops and re-elections. Unfortunately, maintenance brings none of these things.

“Interesting comments from Ms. Garvey - since a lot of this happened on her watch.”

We think Mr. Kubicki is being far too generous in his comments. A search of the school budgets for fiscal years 2006 through 2008 found only one somewhat major HVAC expenditure, which involved spending $600,000 for HVAC controls at Wakefield High School. And while the 2007-2012 CIP used words such as “substantial replacement” for major systems at TJ, Wakefield and Williamsburg, there was relatively minor spending for HVAC issues. In the FY 2009 budget, on the other hand, spending for HVAC issues jumps to $2.6 million. Consequently, Ms. Garvey’s surprise strikes us as rather unusual, too.

By the way, the cost-per-student referred to by Mr. Kubicki is $19,195, according to the Superintendent’s proposed FY 2009 budget.

Both the HVAC task force report (item D on the School Board’s July 1, 2008 agenda) and the budget documents are available at the Arlington Public Schools website.

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