More Austin schools face problems beneath the floors

Paint falling off of the ceiling of a bathroom at Rosedale School in Austin. (KXAN Photo)
Paint falling off of the ceiling of a bathroom at Rosedale School in Austin. (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The abrupt closure of T.A. Brown Elementary School because of safety concerns grabbed the attention of parents, but schools across the district are also facing problems with their buildings, but remain safe.

Inspectors found the failures at Brown after inspecting the crawl space at the school.

A new KXAN analysis of crawl space inspection reports district-wide found 11 schools with a “poor” ratings for the condition of the underside of the school’s suspended floor slabs — the same category of the inspection where T.A. Brown received failing mark that prompted its closure. The district and engineers insist the 11 schools identified by KXAN are safe. However, the problem highlights the beginning of problems at the schools.

“You are starting to see some minor cracks, we’re starting to see a lot of moisture in the system,” said Matias Segura, program director for the engineering firm AECOM, which is working with the Austin Independent School District to assess schools. “So, what we need to do is assess it, which we’ve done. We need to come up with a plan to improve, which we’re doing and incorporate that into the master plan, which we’re undertaking now.”

Here is a list of the 11 schools that had a “poor” score for the condition of the “Underside of Suspended Floor Slabs Above”. Click the links to read the Facility Condition Assessment reports for each school:

Not all the damage rests out of sight.

Concrete floor damage to T.A. Brown Elementary School in Austin (AISD Photo)
Concrete floor damage to T.A. Brown Elementary School in Austin (AISD Photo)

Lauren Ward remembers the day T.A. Brown shut down. Her kids go to Doss Elementary School, which she says is T.A. Brown’s sister school.

“It clearly hit home and it hit home for the kids,” said Ward. “They were wondering if their school was going to shut down.”

Ward says she sees a rodent problem in her kid’s school, which is also noted in the school’s facility assessment. She says Doss is also overcrowded and has issues in the bathrooms.

Those kinds of problems are more common than the severe structural issues seen at Brown. KXAN identified 50 schools scoring a 50 out of 100 or below on their facility condition assessment scores, which are used to reflect the costs for repairs and replacement value of the buildings.

In some buildings the age and lack of maintenance becomes obvious. Segura showed KXAN problems at Rosedale School, which is a school for students with severe medical needs.

“This is a typical restroom in Rosedale. So you see we have finishes deteriorating, a lot of moisture,” Segura said as he walked into a restroom at Rosedale. “When you talk about sanitary, you want to make sure you have hot water, right? You can see here hot water is not working in this restroom.”

Segura turned the hot water handle on the bathroom sink. No water came out.

The principal of Rosedale, Elizabeth Dickey, says about one third of the students use wheelchairs. Still, a stage at the school has steps and does not have a built-in ramp. School staff members have to drag out a homemade ramp each time students need to access the stage.

Dickey also stresses the importance of the of the experience at Rosedale in particular. Unlike most schools, Rosedale has a display case honoring the students who have died because of their medical conditions while they were enrolled at the school.

“I think it should be a palace or it should be the magical world that Harry Potter walked into,” said Dickey. “You know, it should be the best for these kids because, it is their world.”

How did the district get here

Like in any district, buildings begin to reach the end of their lifespans after years of wear, but there’s more to the problems at Austin schools than that.

“Obviously we’re constrained financially. We can only do so much. So there’s a substantial amount of deferred maintenance in our buildings and you can see it sort of culminating in their conditions today,” said Nicole Conley, chief financial officer for AISD.

In fact, the district estimates AISD has put off about $2 billion worth of maintenance because it did not have the money for the upkeep.

“The lack of investment over time has sort of led us to where we’re at today,” said Conley. “I think that that lack of investment has comes as a result of our mindfulness of the impact on our taxpayers and our need to be conservative fiscally and the dire constraints that we’re facing from the budget cuts and challenges that we’re still trying to come out from under from [state budget cuts in] 2011.”

In 2013, voters passed two of the four AISD bond measures on the ballot. Now, the district could go back to voters next year, possibly in a November election, to try to pass another bond.

The district continues working on its master plan and the district announced new developments this week, including the possibility of closing down some schools to use for other purposes, building new schools, while renovating or modernizing others.