As a retired director of facilities and transportation, I get frustrated to hear of buildings in deplorable structural and visual repair in Providence. These concerns, which did not happen all at once, are a product of neglect due to facility management, inadequate financial oversight and funding, committees not understanding what inspections are required by law, and political interference. There is no accountability due to lack of understanding of who is actually the custodians of the structure.
To set the record straight, accountability of these buildings falls directly on the Providence Facility Department, and if they have followed everything I outlined below then and only then are the school administration (superintendent and school committee), the Rhode Island Department of Education, the governor and local politicians to be held liable.
For the benefit of the students and faculty, the safety and integrity of each building must be addressed annually prior to each school building being occupied. An approval from the fire department and building inspector to open schools is required, and although this can be verbally approved prior to actual inspections, supporting documents need to be submitted after the inspections take place. In addition, the school department has to develop, document and execute a plan to abate any infractions found.
The question we should be asking is, where are the required documentations to show compliance in these areas? Once we understand the paper trail or lack thereof, then we will know who is responsible for the neglect in the Providence school system.
Are the physical structures safe for occupancy?
: Are the physical structures compliant to all fire, electrical and plumbing codes?
Has the buildings been declared safe occupying the facility?
: Are there environmental concerns that could affect the health of occupants?
Asbestos and radon testing:
These should be reported to the Department of Health.
Are the heating systems functioning?
State elevator inspector:
Are the elevators and/or handicap lifts operating and maintained properly? Are the shafts being clean to prevent fires?
Beacon Insurance/employee protection:
Are the occupants working in a safe environment? Are hazardous materials being eliminated in the proper manner? Are the equipment functioning as manufacturers specification?
The Trust Insurance/structural integrity:
Are the facilities safe relative for structural loss prevention regarding floors, roofs, walls, playgrounds, etc.?
: Are the conditions in the buildings safe from working hazards? Are there code violations – electrical, fire, chemical, structural, etc.? Are employees trained correctly and routinely? Are annual safety logs and training on file for each employee?
Governor’s Commission on Disabilities
: Are the buildings accessible for the physically, visually and audio challenged?
Integrated pest management:
Is each building being inspected monthly inspections and be treated? Employee training and records are to be maintained in each building.
Are parents being notified annually of each building’s monthly asbestos and pest control inspections? Treatment logs are to be in each school building.
State fire marshal and local fire officials:
Are they passing inspections for violations such as exits blocked, integrity of egress widths, integrity of fire doors, exterior and interior doors, etc.? Where is the documentation for fire extinguisher and suppression systems locations, along with annual inspections and compliance?
Where is the documentation for inspections for alarm notification systems and fire suppression systems, including safety devices such as heat detectors, smoke alarms, horns, strobe lights, sprinkler systems, etc.?
Building inspector/electrical inspector:
Are the electrical, plumbing structure and integrity passing inspecting?
The areas I have referenced are to make those who are not familiar as to what is required of a facility administration along with the understanding of what a qualified director of facilities must be held accountable for.
However, the funding for these corrective actions is directly responsible by the school administration, school committees, councils, and mayors/town administrators.
If the lack of support and funding is missing, then the directors of facilities will be unable to complete their required responsibilities, meaning the youth of today and tomorrow will not enjoy the safety and comfort of learning in an environment that is conducive to learning.
Budgets have been reduced over the past decade to the departments that provide the least resistance to cuts. The budget cuts to the facilities department have forced facility directors to reduce staff, prevented them from buying required equipment, and delayed improvements to their buildings.
Facility management is the heartbeat and one of the most important, yet misunderstood, support departments of the educational component. Do you agree it is time we bring our buildings into the 21st century?
School administrations must advocate cities, towns and politicians to restore adequate funding, so we may provide sufficient staffing who are trained properly, purchase necessary equipment and supplies, and allow their districts facility manager to perform their jobs independently in order to protect the structural integrity of the school buildings.
Morris M. Bochner has been a past president of the Rhode Island Association of School Maintenance Directors. He has been a business owner for over 25 years in environmental services and 15 years in educational facility management. He lives in Cranston with his wife, son, and his dog, Happy.