If you knew nothing about the stellar global reputation of the City of Falls Church’s public school system, and looked only at the state of its facilities as presented to the City Council meeting Monday night, you’d think it was a struggling, poverty-stricken backwater operation.
Graphic presentations made by F.C.’s Interim School Superintendent Dr. Robert Schiller veritably shamed the policy makers of the City that has one of the highest average household incomes of any jurisdiction in the U.S.
None of the four campuses above the pre-school level were shown to be even marginally adequate in terms of the condition of their plants. The presentations were made in the context of seeking an additional $2 million to cover the cost of a major renovation and expansion of the Mt. Daniel Elementary.
A 12-page summary of the current condition of Mt. Daniel circulated to the Council drove home the point.
Among other things, it noted that the current building is “insufficient” now, and that is putting it mildly. The building capacity without trailers is 275 and current the enrollment is 388.
Consider that “all 17 interior classrooms designated for kindergarten and first grade are full, and there is no room for additional students unless class sizes are increased (in violation of a core policy of the City schools).
Special teachers (art, music, library and outdoor classroom) are currently housed in temporary trailer facilities in the playground.
The multi-purpose room for physical education and lunch is not conducive to support the school’s specials schedule, also hindering the ability to have staff meetings after school because the daycare needs the space for its programs.
The library was converted to a classroom in 2014. The trailer space is not large enough for the entire collection of books, such that almost half of it is in storage.
There is currently no space for the additional special education teacher slated to be added in the fall.
One English as a Second Language teacher is now working out of a room the size of a closet (it actually was a closet).
One reading paraprofessional is working in the hallways (the report included photos of these).
One secretary is in a vestibule in the main entrance that is the only path to two special education rooms and the guidance counselor’s office.
There is no occupational therapy room that is up to code for needed materials for students.
There is no room for storage of items required per students’ IEPs.
The enrichment coordinator is working out of a closet off the multi-purpose room.
The current cafeteria tables which pull down from the wall are no longer permissible in a school setting per current safety regulations.
The staff does not have a private and comfortable space to meet with students’ families. Any meetings currently happen in the principal’s office which is cramped and often intimidating for families.
The current clinic has only one small bed which is not enough space for multiple sick or injured children, and there are no windows. (A council member reported Monday night that when she was touring the school, there were four children having to take turns laying down on the only bed in the clinic).
The parking lot is not large enough for a school of Mt. Daniel’s size.
There are only three adult restrooms for a staff of over 60 plus visitors.
Equipment already outliving its anticipated replacement date include HVAC split systems and water-sourced heat pumps in classrooms, electrical unit heaters in restrooms and mechanical closets, pumps in the mechanical room, and the school-wide intercom.
The electrical systems “are well beyond their useful lives.” The current switch gear won’t automatically reset after a power outage which results in staff having to manually reset the service, a very risky procedure that puts everyone at the risk for an arc flash incident. Additional capacity cannot be provided due to the age of the wiring and breakers.
Mt. Daniel is the only school in the division that does not have an emergency generator. When there is an power outage, it takes 15-20 minutes before backup batteries in the phones and emergency lights will stop working. While a generator was recently purchased, due to delays in the construction project, it has not yet been installed.
The age of the fire alarm system “has proven to be exceptionally problematic over the last few years,” as “wiring and devices in the older sections have degraded and require almost non-stop maintenance. The system continues to send out false alarm signals to the police and fire departments, wasting their time and resources. The system may not function correctly when there is an actual alarm.
In the oldest sections of the building dating to the 1950s, no sprinklers exist. The only section sprinkler compliant is the 2005 kindergarten section, serviced by a fire pump to assist with pressure.
The school is not Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant in the 1950s section of the building.
None of the restrooms in the 1950s section are ADA compliant and there is only one ADA-accessible restroom in the entire building.
The current ramp in the main hallway between the kindergarten and first grade wings is too steep and dangerous for anyone in a wheelchair. The handrails are too low for adult standards. The bottom of the ramp is also dangerously close to a set of stairs leading to the playground.
Many of the doorways of restrooms, closets, hallways and classrooms are not the required 32-to-48 inch ADA guidelines for width.
Although Mt. Daniel is a two-story building in one section, it does not have an elevator. Students with disabilities are required to go outside and around the building if they travel between the art classroom and the main section of the building. Students entering and exiting between the playground and trailers are forced to walk around outside to find an entry at grade.
The main entry of the building is not ADA accessible. Students, staff and visitors with disabilities must enter through another entrance that’s at a great distance from the main office, entering at Door 2 and going up a steep interior ramp. With existing students in wheelchairs, it takes two staff persons to safety get a single student into the building.
The clinic is not currently ADA accessible.
The playground and special trailers are only ADA accessible if a person goes out Door 2, down the sidewalk and through the exterior gate, a different route than for all other students.
These conditions speak only to Mt. Daniel, and not the other schools in the system that all have similar lists of needs.