Monday, June 23, 2008

Homework is still due: Re-asking questions to the Pgh Public School board and administration

This is from citizen, parent, advocate: Kathy Fine. It is a reposted here, with pleasure, with slight edits. My reactions to follow, later.

June 23, 2008

Dear PPS board members,

As we all seek the information necessary to make an informed decision regarding the fate of Schenley High School, it is important to remember that we are all on the same side. We all want a public school system that serves ALL children. We all want to be fiscally responsible in that quest. We all want our voices to be heard and to be given real consideration when it comes to the education of our children.

Below are 3 questions to which we need clear and detailed answers to before anyone can consider closing the Schenley building:

  1. What are the 5 and 10 year vision if the district? How will high school reform affect the other 9 PPS high schools?

  1. Given that Schenley High School is the only high school between the rivers (besides Alderdice and CAPA) that is not perceived by the public as in an “unsafe” location, where will the IB students be housed if Schenley is closed?

  1. What is the cost for a renovation that would make the building safe and available on a no frills basis?

I know that this process has been difficult for everyone involved. There are no easy answers. We know that the administration is trying to do what is right to make our students safe as well as address the wide array of academic needs of all of our students. But there is usually more than one option when solving a problem, and we would like all of those options to be thoroughly evaluated.

We would like to thank each of you for your dedication to our public schools. We realize that it is often a thankless job, but one that is so important to the success of our public schools and the vitality of our city.

Best Regards,
Kathy Fine

Questions that School Board Directors need answered before voting to close Schenley High School

  1. Schenley Remediation

    1. Why did the plaster start falling in the Schenley building?

      1. Administration response:

        1. The district yesterday said the installation of new windows in 2005 has reduced ventilation, contributed to humidity and weakened the plaster. (PG 11/20/07)

        2. On June 18, 2008 Mr. Vidya Patil, Director of Facilities, PPS, reiterated the often repeated statement that the cause of the falling plaster from the ceilings in Schenley High School is due to delamination (failure to adhere) caused by age.

      1. Reality: Failing plaster is due to repeated water exposure from roof leaks, possible ventilation problems, inadequate plaster repairs by PPS facilities, and delayed repair (WJE Conclusions, Materials experts hired by PPS, 10/07, tab 8, pg 7)

    1. When did the falling plaster begin and how large the problem?

      1. Administration Response:

        1. Mr. Fellers said in a report that "ceiling and wall plaster (particularly on the upper floors) is falling away from surfaces on a recurring basis" (PG 11/20/07)

        2. After a ceiling collapse in a stairwell last summer, the district spent $750,000 to repair 10,000 worn areas of plaster building-wide. (PG 11/20/07)

      1. Reality: WJE reports that Robert Kennedy, PPS Facilities, stated that there were 5,000-10,000 patches were repaired last summer (tab 8, pg 2). Mr. Roosevelt repeatedly states only the 10,000 number. This is often reported as failure on a grand scale. However, the Schenley building has approximately 600,000 to 1 million square feet of plaster (ceiling and wall). If there were 5,000 one square foot patches done, this would be only .5% of the total ceiling space in Schenley needing repair.

The piece of plaster that Mr. Fellers refers as a “ceiling collapse” was a 4’X4’ piece of patch that had been repaired improperly (PPS facilities did not use mesh or latex modifiers/plasticizers which is why some patches failed. (documentation here)

    1. What is the recommendation for solving the falling plaster problem?

      1. Administration response

        1. Astorino: Vacate and gut the building. “It would be difficult to determine the magnitude of overall danger of possible plaster failures in the future. It is important to understand that danger does exist and requires constant monitoring” (Astorino, tab 1, pg 2)

        1. Kimball and Assoc.: Vacate the Schenley building until it can be adequately renovated. “Asbestos plaster of this era typically adheres to substrate very well (that was the purpose for putting asbestos in plaster) (tab 1, pg 3). This is not true, asbestos is put in plaster for fireproofing and increased tensile strength. “The plaster in this building has maintained its integrity for approximately 90 years and started to fail almost universally across the entire building.” (tab 1, pg 3) Also untrue, plaster failure was due to ongoing, unaddressed moisture exposure according to WJE.

        1. Note: MacLachlan, Cornelius and Filoni made no statement regarding the immediate removal of the students and staff or to potential danger posed asbestos or falling plaster, only that the major renovations should be done while the building is vacant. It should also be noted that the Filoni report initially contained a section evaluating the costs of renovating Reizenstein for converting into a high school and evaluating the worth of Reizenstein building, but this section was redacted before it was released to the public.

      1. Reality: According to WJE, the materials expert hired to assess falling plaster, PPS should: fix leaks to stop moisture, repoint mortar joints, hire engineer to assess ventilation system, inspect plaster near any roof repairs, use proper techniques to repair plaster (use mesh or latex modifiers to do it correctly, PPS facilities did not do this, that is why some patches failed), periodically inspect for future plaster distress.

Summary of damaged plaster assessment: WJE, the materials experts hired by the PPS, evaluated the remediation of the patches done on the PPS facilities and states most areas of plaster failure had been identified and that correct repair methods and periodic monitoring along with proper ventilation will be sufficient for safety. However, the administration, Astorino, Kimball looked at the evaluation done by WJE and came to completely different, more dire conclusions. If roof leaks and ventilation are repaired, there is no reason to keep students out of the building in the fall. Humidity, poor ventilation, water infiltration and windows not opening can be remedied in a cost effective manner.

    1. What is the cost of only asbestos removal?

      1. Administration response: Robert Kennedy states that asbestos removal will cost about $40 million.

      1. Reality: Al Filoni reports that estimates for asbestos management range from $3.5 million to $30 million, but he estimates that the costs would be closer to $10.5 million.

    1. What is cost of asbestos removal and new ventilation only?

      1. Administration response: Mr. Roosevelt said he fears that a partial renovation merely would mean doing more work down the road. Two Kimball executives said they doubted a partial project would be feasible now anyway because the falling plaster would prevent the asbestos from being encapsulated (PG, 11/20/07)

      2. Reality: The standard management of non-friable asbestos (the type that is present in the plaster at Schenley and is not a risk to health) according to the EPA is to leave it in place. Even the plaster that has fallen has not released asbestos into the air (AGX report) The ventilation system can be replaced/repaired during the summer when no students are in the building and abatement of asbestos around ducts can be done at that time.

Two Kimball officials -- Thomas Blank, vice president and operations manager for the civil and environmental division, and Ryan Pierce, vice president of K-12 architecture -- today said the $37.8 million estimate was made before plaster began falling away. The low estimate included encapsulating the asbestos, which is cheaper than removal. However, encapsulation is not possible when the plaster is falling down.

    1. Can the work be done to make Schenley safe for students/staff and the rest of the renovation (electrical, plumbing, air conditioning) be done in stages as funds become available? Will this add substantially to the costs?

    1. What is the scope of work that will be done at Schenley for the $76 million costs?

      1. Administration response- Mr. Roosevelt yesterday released six renovation cost estimates, the highest an $86.9 million proposal from L. Robert Kimball & Associates in 2005. That proposal included $500,000 for refurbishing an organ. Ryan M. Pierce, the Downtown firm's vice president and market sector leader, said the proposal was not only a renovation but a "restoration" of the building. (PG 11/20/07)

      1. Reality: It is unnecessary and extravagant to perform a “restoration” on the Schenley building at this time.

    1. What are the costs to remove all asbestos and make the building available on a no frills basis?

    1. What is the level of asbestos in Schenley compared to the level of asbestos present in the other six PPS high schools?

      1. Administration response: “It's in every wall, in every ceiling, on every floor," and more prevalent in Schenley than other district schools, the district's chief operations officer, said Richard Fellers, (PG 11/20/07).

        1. Paul Gill states that what differentiates Schenley from other high schools is that extensive work was done at Peabody and Westinghouse. What does that mean? Was asbestos abated completely at these other two high schools? Is there asbestos in the plaster at these schools?

      1. Reality: Awaiting documentation from administration.

    1. What is the total cost for housing the Schenley students in 3 separate facilities?

      1. Administration response: In October 2007, the cost estimates from the administration for renovations at Reizenstein, Milliones and Peabody were $28.2 million. Add the costs for CAPA expansion and Sci-Tech renovation and the administration was proposing to spend $49.3 million.

      1. Reality: Architect Al Filoni placed the renovation costs for Reizenstein at $50 million, bringing the total cost for housing Schenley students to $64 million. This cost does not reflect the soaring construction costs or the fact that the Milliones and Sci-Tech price tags are most likely grossly underestimated as the cost for Reizenstein was.

  1. General Questions

    1. What are the 5 and 10 year plans for the district?

    1. What are the plans for the other nine high schools?

    1. Shouldn’t we have a permanent location for the IB program before any decision is made regarding Schenley?

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