Deterioration of Territory’s public schools cited in DOI report
Of the more than $100 million of “deferred maintenance” for all public schools for insular areas, American Samoa’s estimated deferred maintenance is about $10 million, with the highest deferred maintenance in electrical systems, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers ‘Inventory and Condition Assessment — Phase II Report’.
Deferred maintenance, according to the report, which covers the assessment of public school buildings for the insular areas, is maintenance that should have been performed but was delayed for a future period.
According to the report, removing deferred maintenance backlog “is the most important recommendation of this report as it is fundamental to improving the condition of insular area schools”. It is recommended that OIA and the insular areas establish a five-year timeframe to substantially remove the backlog.
Establishing priority lists and strategies for addressing and correcting health and safety-related Deferred Maintenance should be undertaken as a first step. Resolving school site deficiencies, particularly health and safety-related problems, is a critical parallel recommendation.
The phase II report is part of the US Department of the Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs (OIA) “Insular ABCs” initiative — Assessment of Buildings and Classrooms — to improve the condition of insular area schools, a goal of DOI’s FY11- FY16 Strategic Plan, according to DOI, which released the report last month.
The report is the second in a series of steps associated with the ABCs Initiative, with the first released about two years ago and providing situational awareness, a preliminary assessment of school conditions and a methodology for conducting a comprehensive school condition assessment.
The Phase II report documents findings and recommendations of that comprehensive assessment revealed for the first time a complete look at the deteriorating conditions of public schools in American Samoa and other insular areas, said DOI in a brief news release about the report.
According to the 48-page report, there are 115 schools — K-12 — in the four insular areas and a total of 1,576 school buildings. For American Samoa, there are 28 schools and 293 buildings. Insular area public schools were surveyed between August 2012 and April 2013.
It says that insular area school replacement value (or replacement cost) is estimated at approximately $1.7 billion, while deferred maintenance is estimated at approximately $177 million, of which approximately 9% is associated with high priority health and safety issues.
For American Samoa, the replacement cost is around $100 million and deferred maintenance stands at $10 million — with $3.4 million for electrical; $1.8 million in structure; $1.7 million mechanical and the rest for plumbing, exterior, roofing and interior.
According to the report, American Samoa has adopted a standard 10-classroom, two-story concrete building, which is gradually replacing the 1960’s-era concrete and wood fale classroom, reducing design and maintenance costs. The average age of insular school buildings is approximately 40 years and this is the same for American Samoa.
It also says the site survey for American Samoa occurred following completion of stimulus funded facility improvements, such as roof repairs, painting, etc. Key problems found during the survey include among others electrical infrastructure, drainage problems, flooding school grounds and buildings and fire protection, i.e. lack of proximate fire hydrants.
The report also cited facility standards, items that may not be present at schools but considered to be required, that were established during consultation with each school district.
Standard items were rated zero if they were not present — and were recommended for full installation. These items included: fire alarms, fire hydrants, emergency vehicle access, gutters, drains and covered walkways.
The report further identified “health and safety” concerns for several schools, which require priority attention. Total cost for “health and safety” deferred maintenance came to $1.4 million, with electric the highest at more than $700,000 for all pubic schools with a total of 135 “health and safety” hazardous conditions identified by the survey.
Coleman Elementary School in Pago Pago has the highest number of electric hazardous conditions with 18, followed by Matafao Elementary School with 13 hazards.
The report also pointed to “site deficiencies” which were outside of the Phase II scope and didn’t provide cost estimates.
However, the report brings attention to American Samoa with “major site concerns” identified: inadequate fire protection on or near campus; pedestrian hazards from non-delineated roadways; fall hazards; lack of perimeter fencing/gates; lack of regular septic tank maintenance — overflow reported; and lack of back flow prevention for potable water system.
“Site concerns in American Samoa were great relative to other insular areas and should be seriously considered in regional and cross-departmental project planning,” the report says.
It also says that in many cases, inadequate planning when adding new structures to schools was observed, resulting in site congestion, obstructed natural ventilation, vehicular circulation impacts, and site drainage problems. School site plans do not exist and are needed for facility siting, according to the report.
The report further found that many schools are on or near the shoreline and vulnerable to the impact of typhoons or tsunami; and accelerated building material deterioration occurs near the ocean due to high concentration of salt in the atmosphere and this was a greater problem in American Samoa than in other insular areas, primarily due to the close proximity of buildings to the ocean.
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