The School Grounds Inspector
"Can you smell what I'm smelling?"
D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) was picking up the scent of mold in a sixth grade classroom at John Eaton Elementary School Friday afternoon. She was pretty sure she had a fix on it.
"I'd be interested to see what's under the rug," she said.
It was one of many small discoveries on the first day of her second-annual "School Readiness Tour" of the Ward Three public schools. Cheh prowls the halls, pokes through stuffy classrooms, flushes toilets and quizzes principals, looking for problems that could derail a smooth opening day on August 25.
Even when she has no idea what she's looking at, she checks it out anyway.
"I don't know how chillers look, but this is a good looking chiller," Cheh pronounced during a brief trip to the roof and the revamped air conditioning system.
Eaton has the usual issues for an aging school building, such as mold and a chronically leaking roof. Principal Jacqueline Gartrell told Cheh that she sent a work order to the central office a year ago. Cheh said she would follow up. Gartrell also made sure Cheh knew about a new student with muscular dystrophy who needed a chair lift installed on the stairway.
There were a couple of unexpected problems as well. The school kitchen, for example, sports a crater-sized hole in its floor, excavated by workers to gain access to a long-forgotten trap door. They needed it to lower a new compressor into the basement.
To go along with that good-looking chiller on the roof.
The situation was a little more complicated at Alice Deal Junior High, in the midst of a two-year redesign and expansion. Work this summer on eight additional classrooms, a new gym, cafeteria and bathrooms is going down to the wire.
"Everyone is late," Principal Melissa Kim told Cheh, referring to construction contractors. "All the stuff they are supposed to have done, they've not yet met the deadlines."
Furniture seems to be Kim's major headache. New cafeteria furniture is not expected until August 22. While she guarantees that every student will have a desk and a chair by the first day of school, teachers' desks will not be delivered until Sept. 3. School staff is still working on how students will be able to circulate safely through the construction clutter and debris.
All in all, said Cheh, things could be a lot worse. "The problems, to the extent that there are problems, are relatively minor."
Today, Cheh is scheduled to tour Wilson High School and Stoddert, Mann, Key, Janney and Hearst elementary schools.
August 11, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
Categories: Bill Turque , D.C. Council , Education
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