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Falling Ceiling Tiles And Rusty Windows: Inside A Boston School Building Set For Closure05:36
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John Hanlon, chief of operations at BPS, looks at fallen ceiling tiles at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Allston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
John Hanlon, chief of operations at BPS, looks at fallen ceiling tiles at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in Allston. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

It doesn’t take long to notice that the Jackson/Mann school building in Allston is in bad shape. When you walk inside, it’s hard to miss the chipped paint on the walls and handrails.

There is severe water damage everywhere in this building, according to Maritza Ciliberto, principal at the Horace Mann School for the Deaf.

Ciliberto brings me to a high school classroom and points to the ceiling, where several tiles are stained brown. Some are missing.

"It was one of those very windy and rainy days and we just had water come through the roof and actually flooded this classroom," she explains. "And we had to remove the teacher temporarily."

The Jackson/Mann K-8 School, the other school housed in this building, has similar issues with water. Anita Moore, the interim principal, says the windows are a big headache when it rains. Most of them leak and many have built up a film so thick that you can barely see outside.

Then she takes us to a school therapist’s office, where several of the ceiling tiles just caved in.

"Water damage has caused her tiles to completely fall," explains Moore. "I was informed that they fell while she was here."

Anita Moore, interim principal of Jackson Mann K-8 School, points out damage caused by leaking windows. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Anita Moore, interim principal of Jackson Mann K-8 School, points out damage caused by leaking windows. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Ceiling tiles on the school's fourth floor were damaged by rain. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Ceiling tiles on the school's fourth floor were damaged by rain. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

For teachers and staff that work in this building, dealing with these issues is becoming increasingly hard.

"People are like, 'This is disgusting. My classroom is gross,' " says Sharon Southard, an autism strand specialist at the Jackson/Mann K-8 school.

She says it’s hard for staff to keep a good attitude when they have to plan their seating charts around falling ceiling tiles. Students are impacted too. The Jackson/Mann K-8 school serves a large population of students with autism, and Southard says all of the water issues can be very distracting for them.

"They’re like, 'Miss Sharon, it’s raining inside,' " she explains. "So just keeping them engaged and not focusing on the water that’s coming into their classroom is really hard. It’s hard for them to learn and go about their day as normal."

Behind a lot of this water damage is a faulty roof. John Hanlon, the chief of operations with Boston Public Schools, takes me outside to show me what’s going wrong.

"What you’re seeing in some places is billowing of the top level of the roof," Hanlon explains. "It’s almost as if someone pulled a tarp across the top of the roof and it’s not actually secured as tightly as it can. That’s what allows cracks to form and water to get in."

Hanlon walks in the rain through the puddles collecting on the billowing roof of the school building. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Hanlon walks in the rain through the puddles collecting on the billowing roof of the school building. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Hanlon says the roof isn’t the only problem. The windows and the air handlers need to be overhauled too. The district is making some repairs this summer but the building is ultimately set to close in two years.

"This building is only 41 years old. It shouldn’t be in this position," adds Hanlon. "We have many many buildings erected before World War II and we’re not closing them down."

But Hanlon explains this building, along with a few others built in the 1970s, have been problematic practically since they opened.

But if building issues at the Jackson/Mann are so longstanding, why did it take the district so long to do a thorough inspection?

"The problem we’re facing now is that for years, if not more than a decade, there’s been a problem of deferred maintenance piling up within BPS," Hanlon explains after a long pause.

"The fact of the matter is the district is constantly making trade-off decisions with regards to its investments," he adds. "It wasn’t as if the district turned a blind eye to everything in its buildings. It was also trying to manage a school system, and pay teachers and buy supplies and make sure that children were safe. There’s a thousand different financial decisions that are woven into running a school system."

Water collects outside one of the rooftop air conditioner units of the Jackson/Mann K-8 School. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Water collects outside one of the rooftop air conditioner units of the Jackson/Mann K-8 School. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

WBUR made several attempts to reach Mayor Marty Walsh for this story, but he was not made available for an interview.

The Jackson/Mann building is the second district school building to be scheduled for closure because of safety concerns, since the roll-out of Build BPS in 2017. The West Roxbury Education Complex was the first. But district leaders say getting to that point should be rare going forward.

"Fortunately, BuildBPS has now come around in the last few years with a much larger infusion of capital," Hanlon says.

And that infusion of capital is needed in a lot of schools. For example, officials initially identified 17 schools with urgent roof issues, including the Jackson/Mann and West Roxbury Educational Complex buildings. In the last couple of years, six of those roofs have been replaced and three more are budgeted.

But the community at the Jackson/Mann K-8 school is sad that this investment is coming too late for them. Autism specialist Southard says a lot of people are worried about if they’ll be able to stay together after the building closes.

"Logistically, where are they going to place us? Could they even find a building in the area?" Southard says. "We are a very close-knit school with our parents and all of our teachers."

Officials with BPS have reiterated that their goal is to move the school community together, but nothing is set in stone yet.

This segment aired on July 22, 2019.

Related:

Carrie Jung Twitter Reporter, Edify
Carrie is a senior education reporter with Edify.

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