Posted on February 21, 2020
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Categories: District News

District Outlines Progress Around Environmental Safety in Schools at Board Finance and Facilities Committee Meeting

Improvements made around inspections and repairs, work continues to better communicate with school communities

PHILADELPHIA – The School District of Philadelphia updated the Board of Education at its Finance and Facilities Committee meeting on its progress to date around the Environmental Safety Improvement Plan, launched by the District in November 2019.

“While we are making steady progress in many areas, we also realize that improving environmental safety in our schools is a complex issue that will take a significant amount of time and resources to fix,” said School District of Philadelphia Superintendent William R. Hite, Ed.D. “We are committed to sorting through it and will take the time we need to ensure that all students and staff are learning and teaching in safe, healthy and vibrant facilities. Nothing is more important.”

District Operations staff shared that significant progress has been made around conducting more comprehensive inspections in schools, allocating new resources to help conduct environmental safety work, and identifying possible relocation sites, in particular.

To date, the facilities area coordinators and principals have conducted visual inspections in every school. As a result, 30 imminent hazards were identified in 21 schools, and all have been repaired or remediated. In addition, Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) inspections have been improved to include hard-to-reach areas unoccupied by students and staff, including attics. To date, AHERA inspections have been completed at 23 schools, with 34 imminent hazards identified in 10 schools. Thirty-three hazards have been repaired, and one remains safely closed off to students and staff until it is repaired this summer.

The Board also approved action items totaling $41 million in January to aid the District’s work around asbestos testing, abatement, and project management.

“These funds would support the hiring of an additional two new abatement firms, three new testing firms, and a new program management firm to oversee the $500 million in capital funds the District was able to borrow,” said Dr. Hite. “We are excited about these additional investments because they will help us to continue to accelerate necessary work in our schools.”

The District also provided an update on the progress being made to identify and vet relocation sites when a temporary school relocation becomes necessary, and shared a plan to engage with the public about potential relocation sites. Sites must meet specific criteria in order to be considered for the relocation of students and staff. As outlined at the meeting, specific criteria for relocation sites include space (must be able to accommodate more than 400 students or a minimum of 20 classrooms), accessibility by public transit and school buses, the availability to be prepared by September 2020, and the ability to ensure student safety. Members of the public who know of a space meeting the criteria, posted online, are encouraged to contact capitalprograms@philasd.org by Thursday, March 5.

Operations staff shared the District continues to improve communications with school communities and stakeholders. Weekly meetings are held with project managers and key stakeholders on projects so that all parties involved remain informed. In addition, improved processes are in place to notify school communities when hazards are identified, before repair work begins, when possible, and when environmental work concludes.

More information on the aforementioned updates and the District’s work around environmental safety can be found online at philasd.org/healthyschools