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Ceiling Collapse Shutters Daniel Webster Elementary School in New Rochelle

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Ceiling Collapse Shutters Daniel Webster Elementary School in New Rochelle

August 12, 2015 - 21:07
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Some or all students to be relocated for start of school in September.

NEW ROCHELLE, NY -- A ceiling in one of the second floor classrooms at Webster Elementary detached from the ceiling joist and fell to the floor, said Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne in a statement published on the District web site.

“In addition to replacing the ceiling in this particular classroom, engineering inspections revealed that all of the ceilings on the second floor should be replaced to ensure everyone’s safety. The age of the ceiling, originally constructed in 1930, and weight along with some water damage from roof leaks and water penetration through the mortar over the years caused the system to progressively fail.”

Osborne said that other ceilings in the district are being examined to determine if similar problems exist elsewhere in the District.

“Some or all of the school will need to be temporarily relocated while the construction occurs,” said Osborne. “Several different buildings are being considered for the relocation.”

Osborne acknowledged that parents made numerous complaints about heating, lighting and roof leaks and asks that those with questions email: [email protected]

Osborne outlines a $10 million facilities maintenance project with $9 million “earmarked for replacing the two boilers at Albert Leonard Middle School, roofing at Columbus Elementary and Webster Elementary, unit ventilators (for heating and fresh air) at Columbus Elementary School, new and more efficient lighting throughout the district and a host of other improvements. The remaining $1 million is being invested in such improvements as unit ventilators at Trinity Elementary School, district-wide HVAC and new PA systems at Jefferson and Webster Elementary Schools.

Osborne stated that in the 2015-16 budget, the District “allocated $250,000 to hire expert architects and engineers to do a thorough analysis of our buildings and apprise us of any needed maintenance” as part of a required “Five Year Building Condition Survey”. Osborne said that once completed the Building Condition Survey well be used to develop a five-year capital plan “to address any substandard maintenance conditions that may exist throughout our facilities.

The idea that any of this was news to school officials is beyond absurd.

Here is the "Orifici Report" from Capital Projects Consulting. This is a report that verified Talk of the Sound reporting of substantial fraud in the invoicing for projects under Quinn/Gallagher on infamous scams like the Trinity Flag Pole project and the New Rochelle High School Planetarium Project (the contractor in that case agreed to pay the District back $50,000 to settle all claims arising from the fraud and overbilling on that project). Orifici also conducted a new AVI report in December 2013. Talk of the Sound has filed a Freedom of Information request to obtain a copy of that report.

Here is what one former District employee told me about Webster:

They have had a lot of problems when I was there. A lot of roof leaks. When it rains they would have big buckets all over.  The tiles on the ceilings in parts of the building are severely damaged.  They also had windows that would leak very badly when it rained. The Custodian (Freiman) would put plastic bags on the windows.

Talk of the Sound has been reporting for years that Aramark employees falsified Annual Visual Inspection Reports to claim that building in disrepair were in good to excellent condition.

We wrote about this on August 31, 2014:CROWDSOURCING PROJECT: Performing Analysis of Annual Visual Inspection Reports for the City School District of New Rochelle

Based on my sources, these records have been falsified to paint a rosy picture of the condition of the school buildings in New Rochelle. I am aware that based on reporting published by Talk of the Sound over the past year, that a more "objective" Visual Inspection of school buildings was conducted and the results stood in marked contrast to what the District has been reporting for years under the recently fired John Quinn and John Gallagher recently "replaced upon request" by Aramark (more on the Aramark situation in an upcoming article). In fact, the uncompromised Annual Visual Inspection Reports done this year played a large role in the termination of Quinn and Gallagher's positions in the District.

In short, this is a big deal because the public will soon learn that for many years Quinn and Gallagher hid the true nature of the condition of New Rochelle school buildings from the Board and from the Public. The required repairs to these buildings may well run into the millions of dollars.

I did not get any help offered to me last fall when I asked for it. I sent the Trinity reports to Trinity parents but got no result from that. Maybe some smart parents at Webster will now be motivated to take a look at the falsified reports for their children's school now that they realize that Gallagher, Quinn, School Board Members and the administration were willing to allow the building collapse around their children just to cover up the significant failures that occurred here.

Here is a subset of all of the AVI reports I was able to obtain for Webster:

If you click on the latest report (2010-2013) you will see that the report states that in a survey of the roof on August 26, 2010 there are Failures/Splits/Cracks, Rot/Decay/Corrosion and Evidence of Water Penetration/Active Leaks. The Remaining Useful Life of the Roof in 2010 was determined to be 1 Year. That was alsmost exactly five years ago and now the ceiling collapsed! Despite all of this, the Roof is rated "Satisfactory". No dollar figure is attached to any repairs meaning it was not deemed urgent.

We last wrote about the falsification of AVI Reports on February 18, 2015: New Rochelle Board of Education: Criminal Enterprise Masquerading as an Educational Institution - Part VIII

If you are interested in the big money you need to look at things like the Annual Visual Inspection reports, signed by Gallagher, and rife with fraud. These reports are required under New York State law to describe the physical condition of school buildings. In cases where there is an imminent health and safety risk, the report must indicate a dollar figure to make repairs. The amounts involved are tens of millions of dollars in repairs that have been “hidden” by simply declaring that problems that do exist do not exist. I am going to get into these reports in detail in future articles in this series.

Anyone who has been watching recent board meetings knows how upset parents are at Trinity Elementary School because classrooms are not heated in the winter, that water leaks into classrooms around light fixtures and concerns over mold. I sent those parents copies of the AVI reports for Trinity so they could seem for themselves how Gallagher reported this to New York State, that none of these problems exist at the school.

These AVI reports were evaluated by Mike Orifici and the folks at Capital Project Consulting, the firm hired to review jobs performed by outside contractors (all hired by Gallagher), who, I was told, estimated that the all-in cost to fix all the problems that Gallagher lied about on the AVI reports was about $40 million. The district does not have a spare $40 million so Schools Superintendent Dr. Brian Osborne and Board Members are left with a choice — continue to ignore the problems or go to the voters to bond for the money. So far they have continued to ignore the problem. They have certainly not shared the bad news with the public. Meanwhile children continue to be placed in classrooms without heat, with mold, with leaking roofs and much worse and told it is their imagination (there have been heating issues this winter at Barnard, Ward and Columbus as well).

In the spring of 2014, Orifici personally inspected each of the schools and summarized in another report all of the maintenance and repair issues which were evident.  At Webster School, the two top priorities were: the rebuilding of the retaining wall (for the lawn) along Calhoun Avenue which had partially collapsed and the re-pointing of portions of the school's rear roof where water was entering the building.  This work was done during July and August of 2014.  The term re-pointing refers to placing a second layer of protective compound on the roof tiles to keep them in place and water out. Talk of the Sound has requested a copy of this report under the Freedom of Information Law.

EDITOR'S NOTE: I went to great lengths to make School Board members aware of these problems for years by speaking with them privately, speaking at board meetings, writing emails and reporting my findings on Talk of the Sound. I was not only ignored but vilified for it. I am not going to say that I'm not one to say I told you so because I am saying it now "I told you so". The real shame is the parents who are so invested in not rocking the boat or imaging that saying nothing about incomptence, cronyism, and criminality is how a "good" parent "supports" the school district. Sadly, my friends, neighbors and the parents of my children's friends have been the biggest enablers of the culture in the New Rochelle Schools that has led us to the point that our schools go through the winter with no heat, the roofs rain down buckets of water into classrooms, asbestos material is dragged through hallways spewing asbestos particles into the air and tens of millions of dollars and serious disruptions are going to be required to begin to address the problem. Osborne states quite clearly that he was told about all of this -- that $40 million was needed to pay to repair the years of neglect -- and then says he acted "immediately". Obviously that is not the case because the roof at Webster has been a known issue for years, it was listed as an urgent repair in the original review my Orifici back in December 2013 and now in August 2015 the roof caved in. So, how can Osborne say with a straight face that he acted "immediately". Obviously, if he acted "immediately" the roof would not have caved in. I have no idea where Osborne is getting the $10 million he says is allocated for these repairs but this is only a fraction of the money that is needed. The bigger question is why he has not addressed raising the $40 million he knows is needed and how he proposes to do that (there is only one way, a referendum on bond for that money) and what is going to happen in the meantime? Whatever is his reasoning, when the roof caves in on a school a year after you admit you were warned about it, that is NOT acting "immediately". A big questions parents should be asking is whether or not Osborne was warned specifically about the roof at Webster either through the Orifici Report or some other means and whether the roof was determined to be a "health and safety risk" which would classify repairs as urgent. Also, what did Carl Thurnau of NYSED Facilities Management have to say about the Webster roof when he visited the District last spring at the request of the Trinity parents? Was he even told about the roof? Was it part of his tour? Did he make any specific recommendations?

RELATED: Given the past abuse of AVI reports, is this really a good idea? It's not too late to stop this really dumb idea.

Senate approves bill eliminating annual visual inspection requirement for Auburn, other NY schools

In addition to repealing the annual inspection requirement, the bill also requires the state education commissioner to conduct a review of the effectiveness of eliminating the mandate. The commissioner will be tasked with developing recommendations on whether districts should continue to be exempt from the annual inspection requirement, according to the bill's language. The education commissioner's report must be submitted to the governor and state Legislature by Jan. 1, 2019. 

Senator George Latimer and Senator Andrea Stewart-Cousins voted in favor of eliminating AVI reports.

Cuomo approves bill to Removes the requirement for annual visual inspections of school buildings