A garbage can was used to collect water from a leaking air conditioning unit at Dresden Elementary School in Atlanta during the first week of the school year. A leak has been reported in the same area each of the past three years. HANDOUT PHOTO

DeKalb backlog shows school maintenance needs never end

On Oct. 10, 2017, just after noon, the DeKalb County School District received an urgent maintenance request from Oak Grove Elementary School in Atlanta.

“Good morning! The contractor still smelled gas in the kitchen and asked when we last had a system check,” the person wrote. “It appears to be coming in by a window A/C unit from the outside meter/line. My cafeteria staff has complained of headaches for 3 days. A work order has been submitted. Is there any hope of getting someone to check it out? I heard someone say it was checked (and) nothing was wrong but if that were true, we wouldn’t smell the gas.”

The work never got done, according to DeKalb County School District records.

It is one of more than 6,800 active work orders for DeKalb’s 140 or so buildings through October 10 that have been assigned but were not listed as complete. Some of the requests go back to early 2017. Eight requests made on Oct. 9 and 10 had not yet been assigned to be addressed.

Among the work orders are seemingly simple requests. Light bulbs are needed for blown lamps in a teacher parking lot. Several schools report clogged toilets. Briar Lake Elementary School officials asked for tree limbs to be removed from a walkway on June 20. At Towers High School, the refrigerator in the culinary arts room isn’t keeping food cold.

Several thousand of the requests were biannual requests seeking supplies and to check exhaust fans and water heaters. Many were about leaking roofs and air conditioning issues.

Dan Drake, the district’s interim chief operations officer, said the list is a combination of several things, including work orders being cleared before the work is done, regular maintenance requests and items already addressed but not cleared from the system.

Drake said a data-driven approach to handling maintenance requests should help the district better prioritize requests as they come in and update the current list of outstanding work orders.

About $100 million has been earmarked for building fixtures through the Education Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (ESPLOST) to replace heating and cooling, electrical, plumbing and other major systems, the district said.

The district’s computerized maintenance management system prioritizes issues across the district. Officials said heating and cooling issues are prioritized according to the scope of their impact, from one classroom all the way up to the entire school

In July, when asked about the various states of disrepair at district buildings, Superintendent Steve Green said it would take about $2 billion to fix all facilities problems. The district had 23,870 maintenance requests during the 2017-2018 school year.

Many districts are hesitant to go into detail about the extent of their maintenance woes. Requests by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution for the number of active maintenance requests last month were not answered by several districts, including Gwinnett and Cobb counties.

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