by Sue Ann Rybak
At an average age of 65 years old, many Philadelphia school buildings are in dire need of repairs, including J.S. Jenks Academy for the Arts and Sciences, 8301 Germantown Ave. in Chestnut Hill. According to a Facility Condition Assessment (FCA) report the School District of Philadelphia released in January 2017, the elementary school had serious issues with an “Alyan boiler feed tank, with triplex feed pumps” and “steam leaking into the boiler system from failed steam traps.”
Harold Whack Jr., a spokesman for the school district, told the Local on Feb. 23 in an email that the issue had been addressed.
“All the boiler feed pumps at J.S. Jenks are operational and have been through the entire 2017/2018 heating season,” he wrote. “In June 2017, there were some replacements made. We have been in communication with the building engineer and FAC [Facilities Area Coordinator] and both report that there is no steam blowback in the boiler room.”
While the issue was repaired without incident, failing to maintain a boiler or equipment can result in serious injury or death. In 2016, Christopher Trakimas was killed after he attempted to bring a boiler online that had been shut down for a year at Franklin S. Edmonds Elementary School in East Mt. Airy.
The report estimated that J.S. Jenks Academy for the Arts and Sciences, which was built in 1924, needed approximately $11 million in repairs. The report, completed by Parsons Environment & Infrastructure Group Inc., recommended that the district repair or replace its HVAC system, heating and cooling controls and electric service distribution system.
According to the report, two cast iron radiators, which were installed when the school was built, provide heating for the building. Two house fans located in the mechanical room in the basement, which would have provided heating and ventilation for the building, are not operational due to “environmental issues.” Currently, ventilation for the building is provided by opening windows, which does not meet current codes for outdoor air ventilation.
Despite repeated attempts to obtain information, the district did not respond to the Local’s questions about whether the two house fans were fixed or what they plan to do and when.
In an attempt to address the issue, Haviva Goldman, vice president of Friends of J.S. Jenks (FOJSJ), said the nonprofit recently purchased two large air conditioners for use on the third floor, but because the school has “an antiquated electrical system with limited capacity,” they could not be installed.
“Parents are concerned about the safety of the electrical system and about the school’s inability to install much needed technology upgrades in the school, and air conditioning units on the third floor (more important than ever due to the new August start of the school year),” she wrote in an email.
She said to install modern educational technology like smartboards, the school needs to upgrade electricity in the classroom costing thousands of dollars out of the school’s “very limited budget.”
“Although the school itself budgeted funds for the rewiring in the rooms where the air conditioning was needed, from what I understand they were told that the work could not be done unless a new electrical system was brought in from the street, a very costly endeavor.”
Goldman said initially FOJSJ’s plans for auditorium lighting upgrades were put “on hold for the same reason,” but after a recent conversation with Danielle Floyd, acting chief operating officer for the district, the nonprofit learned the new LED lighting could be purchased through the Friends of Jenks, thanks to a grant from the Business Improvement District, because it had a lower electrical output than the existing lighting.
“Right now, we are trying to ascertain whether the only option for furthering technological capacity at the school is a full rewiring of the building or if any more capacity can be added without introducing new lines,” Goldman said.
Chestnut Hill resident Eva Dorcus, president of the Jenks Home and School Association, said the organization is currently asking parents to sign a letter expressing “parental concerns about the electrical limitations and safety.”
When the mother of a student at Jenks learned that the School Reform Commission (SRC) recently voted to give $20 million to outside vendors for virtual classes and data collection rather than allocating those funds to fix infrastructure repairs, she was disappointed.
She said $20 million dollars would have provided several schools with electrical upgrades. Dorcus said she hopes the new school board will be more transparent and put the safety and health of Philadelphia school children first.
As Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. said in a statement when the district released the FCA report in January 2017, “Every child should have access to a safe, healthy, and welcoming school facility that supports teaching and learning opportunities.”
To read a copy of your school’s FCA report, go to https://www.philasd.org/capitalprograms/about/initiatives/facility-condition-assessment/