Newark Schools in All 5 Wards Suffering Water Damage

Newark School District is one of the oldest school systems in New Jersey, with many of its buildings over 100 years old. Scheduled repairs at Malcolm X Shabazz High School would cost over $7 million.
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NEWARK, NJ - Water entering through faulty roofs is causing damage to city schools in all five wards, a comprehensive walkthrough of Newark Public Schools facilities reveal.

“Where we see the most damage and see it in classrooms is where (water) infiltration has occurred,” said Mary Bennet, member of the facilities review team for NPS Clarity 2020. “That is a major issue across the district and it is also one of the bigger ticket items to repair.”

Superintendent Roger León called upon Bennet and Dr. Ray Lindgren, two Newark natives, and longtime educators, to complete a thorough facilities review identifying any deficiencies and critical issues. The duo presented their report last week along during the NPS Clarity 2020 report to the superintendent.

Although buildings are in serviceable conditions, the district needs to invest more to keep them presentable, safe, and adequate for academic programs, said Bennet. 

“It’s probably the largest most destructive issue we’ve seen across the 48 schools that we have walked through,” said Bennet, who attributed the water infiltration issue to roof leaks, pointing out that roofs and gutters have not been cleaned.

Roof leaks and gutter cleaning require that someone get to the top of school buildings for routine cleanings and repair. However, the district has a limited supply of equipment needed to do the job. 

“We have over 60 schools, over 30 of them are over 100 years old,” said Lindgren. “We have one cherry picker, which means maybe twice a year, they can get to a given school.”

Bennet and Lindgren walked through 48 school buildings so far with principals and custodial staff and inspected every room. The pair will finish inspecting the rest of the schools by the end of the month.

High schools were a priority because of León’s plan to implement academies at comprehensive high schools across the district. Each school will eventually receive a comprehensive report.

Every district in New Jersey is required to have a five-year facilities plan. Newark last wrote its facilities plan in 2014, which comes to an end in June 2019, according to León.

Other facilities issues presented in the report were imbalanced heating and cooling systems, schools with new boilers but over 100-year-old pipes, and teachers having to create makeshift barriers to keep students away from uncovered radiators.

The New Jersey School Development Authority currently lists 13 Newark schools as active emergent projects. This means the schools require repairs deemed necessary by the state Department of Education due to potential health and safety reasons.

The SDA fully funds emergent projects to address water infiltration issues and include the repair and placement of roofs, windows, exterior masonry, heating and cooling systems, plumbing, electrical, mechanical, and security systems. Malcolm X Shabazz High School is on the list and needs about $7 million worth of structural, exterior masonry repairs, and roof replacement to reverse the damage.  

The district allocated $5 million of the 2019-2020 budget to restore and reopen some schools. Newark Vocational is also on the active emergent project list. The school will receive $2 million from the district toward restoration and outfitting of classrooms.

At Barringer High School, the hallways are five different shades of blue tile and some schools didn’t have ballasts on hand for the lighting systems replacements, according to Bennet. She says the district should stock up on materials to make repairs that are necessary and aesthetically pleasing.

In many schools, the toilets in the bathrooms were not working or missing. One school, Lindgren recalled, had a disconnected toilet that was left in the stall. Some sinks were missing or did not release either hot or warm water. A full evaluation of electric capacity to meet technology and air conditioning needs in every classroom is critical to provide year-round programs that are a key part of Clarity 2020 said, Lindgren.

“We need to be systemic,” he said. “We need to develop a program, process, and schedule to address these issues.”

The facilities review should conclude this month with a report for each school. The final version of the NPS Clarity 2020 strategic plan will be unveiled on June 13, 2019, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Science Park High School.

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