For years, public charter schools like mine have been operating without receiving facilities funding from the state. Having to use their own instructional funds for facilities puts an incredible strain on the ability of public charter schools to run effectively. It causes detrimental costs for the students, families, and faculty. Every school should be given the same resources in order to provide its students with the best quality education possible. Sadly, this is not happening and public charter schools are facing the consequences.
In 2018, we purchased a former church property which included four buildings – a church, school, rectory, and convent. We embarked on an $8 million renovation project to address deferred maintenance issues and make the buildings usable for our school, which serves 360 students from Waterbury in grades PK-8. This year, when academic, attendance, and health challenges have been daunting, our facilities issues have also come to the forefront once again. I’d like to share a few examples of some days this school year which stand out in my memory in the hope that they will paint a picture of the difficulties we face daily with facilities issues.
School began on August 31 with the usual anticipation along with pandemic-related trepidation. On September 2, the third day of school, I arrived to find building C, the former church, with water streaming in. Now, I am not talking about some ground water leaking into the corners of a basement – I am talking about water streaming down the walls, pouring through the hallway ceiling, including through light fixtures, and about 2 inches of water on the floor in the upstairs hallway and in a large section of the cafeteria. Our student support assistant went out to purchase squeegees while others of us mopped and wet vac’d to the best of our ability, hoping against hope that our brand-new gym floor would be spared. There was no water on that floor, so we breathed a sigh of relief on that front and squeegeed away. We closed that building for the day, relocating 2 classrooms and canceling specials. We dried things out, replaced light fixtures and called ourselves lucky…until a few weeks later when the gym floor began to buckle. These were not just little ripples, these were mini mountain ranges caused by water seeping underneath the floorboards during the flood. This flooding was caused by problems with the flat roof on the hallway area.
In October I was called to the gym to see a stream of water running down the wall. This was from a leak on the other side of the church roof, where some shingles blew off in a storm.
Then there was the Monday after Thanksgiving break, when I woke to text messages saying we had a flood on the second floor of the school building and it was raining in three classrooms. I arrived to find that the main school boiler had a problem which resulted in the entire system filling with water and causing pipes on the second floor to leak a significant amount from the resulting pressure.
After that incident, we of course had HVAC bills – needing to replace the tank with the float that failed and caused the problem, calling in a restoration company to provide air movers to dry the floors and ceilings and treat with antimicrobials, a carpenter to repair the ceiling and replace some tiles and, oh, remember that gym floor? Well, as in the gym, mini mountain ranges formed in the two classrooms which had hardwood floors, so we also had to replace those floors.
These are just a few of the major issues. We’ve had plenty of minor issues as well, as we expect and for which we budget.
However, as of today, we have spent over $27,000 on HVAC repairs in this school year, with more to come. In addition, we’ve spent over $20,000 on unanticipated floor and ceiling removal and replacement. We are looking at having to replace additional boilers, repair the parking lot, and replace roofs and gutters over the next year or two. In addition, we are slated to add an elevator to the former convent and convert two bathrooms in that building for handicap accessibility. We have been approved by CSDE for a facilities grant toward this project but that grant will not cover all costs, and at this point with materials increases we anticipate that our portion of costs will increase substantially from what was projected three years ago when the grant was approved. Also, just last week we received two bids for replacement of the former church roof – both around $400,000. This is not a project that can be deferred, as we have already had some leaks and there is visible damage, including missing shingles and “cupping”, or buckling, of the roof.
We were fortunate to be able to purchase and renovate the property, but that $8 million mortgage comes with an annual debt service that equals a full 10% of the charter school per-pupil money we receive. That $400,000 estimate for the replacement of one roof represents an additional 10%. In the absence of additional federal funds, I am not sure what will happen when the next big project comes along, as, again, public charter schools do not receive facilities funding from the state.
I know we are not alone in this. That is why I am asking, on behalf of all charters, that our state provide our state’s public charter schools with access to funds for school facilities. The burden is real, and it is heavy. In this time when attendance at school is more important than ever, no one should be forced to lose school days due to failing heating systems or leaking roofs. I don’t believe other public schools are spending 10% of their budgets on debt service and an additional 10-15% on major facilities repairs.
Chief Operating Officer
Brass City Charter School