‘Critical’ Violations at City Schools Prompt Meeting
LOWELL -- An urgently worded letter from the Board of Health describes “critical” sanitary code violations at the city’s schools from rodent droppings to serious roof leaks.
“These are considered ‘critical violations,’ in that, if they occur in a city restaurant or food establishment they would be cause for closure due to Health Code violations until the necessary repairs or corrections were made,” wrote Jo-Ann Keegan, chairwoman of the Lowell Board of Health.
The contents of the letter are expected to be discussed at a Board of Health meeting on Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Mayor’s Reception Room.
In the letter sent to Acting Superintendent of Schools Jeannine Durkin and City Manager Eileen Donoghue, among others, Keegan lists recent failed sanitary code inspections at several schools for violations including rodent droppings, damaged drywall and ceiling tiles, trip hazards in a walk-in refrigerator and water “pouring” in through roofs during rain storms. She said the district needs to reassess its pest control plan as a number of schools have rodent issues even extending to the the cafeteria.
“Of special concern are the leaking roof and tunnel at the High School, steps being taken with the new extermination company to combat the rodent infestation being reported at several schools as well as other critical violations noted in the current Sanitary Code inspections and previous Building Code violations noted in the report by former Building Commissioner Shaun Shanahan,” Keegan wrote in a letter.
Last year, weeks before a planned vote on locating the new high school, the Board of Health similarly rang alarm bells by voting to recommend Lowell High School be temporarily closed in order to address a number of building issues. Several city officials pushed back on this assessment and the high school remained open.
The most recent letters request both Durkin and Donoghue attend this week’s meeting, or send a representative, to discuss the ongoing repairs in the schools.
Keegan said the request follows unsuccessful attempts to bring other school or city department heads to the meetings to provide an update on these violations.
“We wanted to communicate our frustration directly to the superintendent and the manager,” she said.
Donoghue said deferred maintenance is an ongoing issue in the schools and a focus of her administration. A representative from her administration will attend and if possible, Donoghue said she will also try to attend.
She contended a claim made in the letter that meetings between the public works department, building commissioner, senior sanitary code inspector and school department have slowed or stopped.
Donoghue said these meetings are being held on a weekly or more frequent basis. Keegan said she had been previously informed otherwise at a Board of Health meeting and spoke to the city manager about this discrepancy.
Donoghue received the letter from the Board of Health on Friday and called Keegan. During this conversation Keegan said she felt they were “on the same page.”
Donoghue said she asked where some of the violations mentioned in the letter happened so she could check if they were being fixed and Keegan did not immediately provide this information. The city manager said this may be clarified at the Wednesday meeting.
The school department is in charge of the pest control contract, according to Donoghue.
Durkin did not respond for comment by deadline after being contacted Monday afternoon.
A slew of recent fire code and sprinkler violations prompted a meeting last month between school and city departments as well as the contracted inspection company.
Donoghue said she requested the company develop a priority and cost assessment for these repairs, which she said they didn’t initially develop because they didn’t believe these problems would be fixed.
“Many of these have been outstanding for several years and not addressed,” she said.
In other efforts, Donoghue said EMG, an engineering and project management company, recently completed field work for a priority and cost assessment of repairs at the districts schools.
In a parallel initiative, she said members of her staff are making a priority list of projects to apply for grants from Massachusetts School Building Authority after years without an attempt.
Donoghue said district and city administrators are working together to address work orders and have reduced the backlog from 1,300 to about 800.
“We are trying everything to try to bring these things to a semblance of making sense,” she said.