Agassiz repairs not in 2011-16 city budget

May 28, 2010
By

David Taber

Funding for repairs of the Louis Agassiz Elementary School that city officials said last year might be included in the next capital budget does not appear in the recently released fiscal years 2011-2016 capital plan.

David Gallogly from the city Capital Construction Division said the city hoped to invest $2 million in the 20 Child Street school at a city council hearing held at the school last December. He said at the time that he was not promising the money.

City Councilor Chuck Turner, who filed the order for the previous hearing about the Agassiz, called for another hearing about the funding.

“The purpose of the hearing is to press them to make the investment,” Turner told the Gazette. It has not yet been scheduled, he said.

The omission from the capital budget comes at a time when Boston Public Schools is starting to consider possible school closures for the 2012-2013 school year, raising the question of whether the Agassiz might be targeted.

Asked whether Agassiz was being looked at for closure, BPS spokesperson Matt Wilder told the Gazette BPS has not started to formulate a closure proposal list. BPS officials have said it is likely at least six schools will be closed and all school closure proposals will be subject to a community review process.

Agassiz Principal Maria Cordon and the Mayor’s Office did not return Gazette phone calls for this article.

City Councilor John Tobin, who has repeatedly suggested that it might be wise to close the Agassiz, restated that sentiment in a recent Gazette interview. “I have been saying for a long time, ‘How much money is it going to cost to fix?’ At some point, you have to decide, do you keep putting Band-Aids on it?” Tobin said.

The Agassiz was built in the 1970s and received $10 million in maintenance in the 1990s. Last year the city spent close to $900,000 replacing the schools windows.

Turner told the Gazette he thinks it’s unlikely the Agassiz will be closed. “”I doubt it. They just put [close to] $1 million in for the windows. And I think they see it as part of their K-8 strategy.”

Last year BPS proposed turning Agassiz from an elementary into a K-8 school as part of a plan to split the district from three school zones to five in order to save on transportation costs. That controversial plan fell apart, but BPS is planning to put together another school zone plan—for the 2011-2012 school year—by next fall.

As the Gazette previously reported, that planning process, along with the school closure process, will include community meetings in the coming months.

The criteria BPS plans to use for determining what schools to close include: geographic location; how heavily the building is used for outside programming; academic performance; enrolment numbers; the age and health of the building and what kind of services the school offers, Wilder said.

The approximately 900-seat Agassiz has been under-enrolled for years. Last year 562 students attended the school. It is among 12 chronically underperforming “turnaround” in Boston schools targeted by the state for intervention earlier this year.

It has served as a site for a Boston Center For Youth and Families public community center, but that community center is on a list of BCYF program sites slated to be turned over to as-yet unidentified private service providers, and its future is unclear.

The Agassiz also has a reputation as a “sick” building, with poor air quality that could affect students’ and teachers’ health. A state Department of Public Health study found last year that the rate of air circulation in the building makes it unlikely that the airborne mold and dust are adversely affecting people in the building.

The study did find other problems, including that it is poorly insulated. At the December hearing Gallogly said the proposed $2 million would go toward realigning the school building’s large exterior wall panels—many of which have slipped out of place, some of which are beginning to bow out from the structure—and to resealing the building’s exterior seams.

The city would look at the insulation problems as it fixed the walls, Gallogly said at the time.

Teachers from the school complained at the December hearing that the gym roof was leaking. BPS officials said the window-replacement project should take care of that problem. According to Turner’s recent hearing order, that was not the case. “…[P]ersonnel at the Agassiz school have reported that while all the windows have been replaced, water continues to come into the gymnasium after it rains…,” the hearing order said.

Turner said he had heard from BPS that the leaks in the gym were fixed when the windows were replaced, but conversations with Agassiz staffers indicated that they had not.