1. #1
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    Mar 2001

    Post Cape Coral Fla--School Officials Question Fire Safety

    Safety deficiencies cause district to postpone school construction plans

    In light of recent deficiencies surfacing within the district’s school safety system, the School District of Lee County is suspending new school construction until a more aggressive safety policy can be implemented.

    “Right now, we’re reacting to something that wasn’t done before. The plan is there, it just isn’t pro-active enough,” board member

    Elinor Scricca said at a press conference Friday.
    Deciding to place the safety of district children above construction needs to house projected student growth, the school administration has decided to halt pending work on all of its capital projects until the problems are rectified.

    “The safety of our schools and children comes first,” School Superintendent James Browder said.
    The delay, district officials say, could last up to a year.
    Costing roughly $10 to 12 million to solve, the money used to improve existing safety plans will cut into funds the district had planned on using for the construction of new schools, causing the district to re-evaluate its building agenda.
    “We’re going to re-evaluate our whole building plan,” board member Steven Teuber said.

    This means the district will halt its agenda for the next phase of new school construction and possibly beyond, although construction efforts already under way will continue.

    This presents good news to the Cape, as the decision will not effect the building of two elementary schools and one middle school within Cape Coral that already are in progress, officials say. Elementary School “Q”, Trafalgar Elementary, and Mariner Middle School still are expected to be completed by August of 2004, with classes beginning one year earlier in portables adjacent to North Fort Myers Academy For the Arts.

    For more on this local story by Christine Brubaker, see the April 26 issue of The Breeze.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  2. #2
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    Mar 2001

    Post Follow Up

    Lee schools delay projects

    Fire code woes put long-term plans on hold

    By JENNIFER BOOTH REED, jreed@news-press.com

    All Lee County school construction projects, except for six schools already under way, are on hold until the system fixes fire code problems that have plagued some schools for years.

    Superintendent James Browder announced the suspension Friday afternoon, a day after Cape Coral High School went back to hiring fire watchers because its alarm system was down.

    “I don’t think we can deal with any future projects until these are resolved,” Browder said.

    He thinks the district will need to spend between $10 million and $12 million to fix alarms and other fire code violations at about 10 Lee County schools, including Cape High. Browder did not release details of his plan or a list of schools Friday.

    He said he expects to postpone construction for no more than a year.

    The decision finally could resolve fire-related issues that surfaced in July 2000. Lee schools at the time were in such bad shape that the state almost did not let them reopen in time, and when they did open, then-Superintendent Bruce Harter had to write regular memos to the state detailing Lee’s progress in fixing the violations.

    But Browder’s decision comes as more than 2,000 students per year join Lee County’s ranks, the Legislature is imposing a voter-mandated class-size reduction and Lee County schools are bursting at the seams.

    The system was to build 58 schools by school year 2012-13 according to a plan pitched by former Superintendent John Sanders and his administrative team. The first batch of new schools will proceed as planned and open in 2004-05. The next building phase of six schools was scheduled to open for the 2005-06 school year.

    Sanders’ plan, however, isn’t likely to proceed as he and his staff outlined anyway.

    Board member Steven Teuber said the board and administration will “not just slide over” schools in the plan to a later year but will reconsider the entire plan.

    Although the board gave Sanders the green light to pursue the plan, several board members during their campaigns had been skeptical that the system really needed all of the schools Sanders was proposing.

    Browder said he’ll have to use portable classrooms, including the ones at North Fort Myers Academy for the Arts. That campus is scheduled to house students who are waiting for Cape Coral schools that are under construction. Browder said he’s also ordered an additional 26 portable classrooms and is developing a plan to find more high school seats.

    Four of five school board members appeared at a news conference with Browder on Friday, offering their support. Member Jane Kuckel did not attend.

    “We’re going to fix them at one time and fix them correctly,” Teuber said. “I’m very disappointed about the severity of what needs to be fixed.”

    Fire officials say the district has made remarkable progress in fixing code violations, but problems persist. Cape High has been on and off fire watch since 2000. Lehigh Senior High School spent several months on fire watch earlier in the school year. Both Cape and Mariner high schools continue to wait for sprinkler systems for their stages.

    Yet, in other areas of the county, fire officials report no fire safety violations. Fort Myers Fire Marshal Don Ward said he considers schools in the city of Fort Myers to be safe and facing only minor building code issues.

    “There was a plan put in place (to fix violations), but it was not expedient enough,” school board Chairwoman Jeanne Dozier said.

    The situation begs questions, too, as to why alarm systems continue to malfunction in schools where hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent on repairs. Browder said he will hold contractors accountable if he finds them to be negligent and will make sure district staff is doing their jobs. Browder also announced he will implement new procedures to ensure things get done right the first time.

    Cape Coral High School teacher Louis Roos, who ran for the school board last year, said the fire code fiasco continues because no one is held accountable.

    “I think it is the most unconscionable thing I’ve encountered in the Lee County School District,” Roos said. “We've spent millions of dollars and now we're back to it.”

    Roos said teachers endured construction and worked around it in the hopes that the school would be improved. Cape High was put back on fire watch Monday because the sprinklers and alarms don’t work.

    The school district has spent more than $70,800 this school year on fire watchers at Mariner High School, Lehigh Senior High, San Carlos Park Elementary and Cape Coral High School.

    Cape Coral Fire Chief Bill van Helden was pleased to hear the news. He met with Browder earlier this week and said he was encouraged by Browder’s quick response. The district and fire officials have not always had a good relationship, but van Helden said he believes Browder will work well with them.

    “We’re working very proactively to make sure these things don’t happen again,” van Helden said.

    Some parents, watching their children’s swelling class sizes, wonder why the district has to put off building plans in order to fix alarms.

    “There are 1,000 kids moving into the district every year, which means we need a new school every year. We have the amendment which says class size should be 22 students and we’re nowhere near that. This will put them further behind,” said Rick Cauble of Cape Coral.

    Browder said it’s a money issue. The district needs to divert the money that would go into planning new schools into repairs instead.

    The district could conceivably do both at once if board members borrowed money or persuaded voters to approve a sales tax. Browder said neither option is feasible at this time.

    “We can’t continue to borrow to build new schools because we’re gonna go broke,” he said.

    He said he will talk about a sales tax with the board, but a successful campaign could take months and he said the fire code repairs need to be done immediately.

    Parent Tammy Caleb of Bonita Springs said her children’s schools are crowded. But she said if the district builds now without taking care of existing buildings, the repairs might never get completed.

    “There is a need for (new schools),” she said. “But we need the kids who are going to school to be safe.”
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  3. #3
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    Mar 2001


    Lee weighs fire code repairs

    School administrators to prioritize needs of buildings this week

    By JENNIFER BOOTH REED, jreed@news-press.com

    KEEPING WATCH: Fire watcher Ramona Rivera walks the halls of Cape Coral High School on Monday afternoon. Fire watchers were needed at the school after more fire code problems arose last week.

    The plans were drafted three years ago when the district found out that many of its school fire alarms were malfunctioning and that buildings were plagued with numerous code violations.

    Browder said he thought most of the repairs had been done. A staff member mentioned the repair plan during a meeting, touching off Browder’s scramble to find out the status of fire code fixes.

    “I assumed they were being corrected, just like everybody else did,” Browder said.

    But a plan drawn during Bruce Harter’s administration allowed a five-year timeline for repairs that stretches to the 2005-06 school year.

    Browder said the timeline wasn’t fast enough for him. Friday, he declared a moratorium on new construction projects until he had a better handle on existing code violations and the amount of money it’ll take to fix them.

    Preliminary estimates put the repair bill at $10 million to $12 million.

    Initially, Browder and his staff are looking at 18 schools and the Gwynne Building in downtown Fort Myers, which houses the Parent Information Center, Foundation for Lee County Public Schools and the district’s adult education program.

    Those schools were selected based on a review of the 2000 fire code repair plan and subsequent annual safety inspections.

    Administrators will spend the week looking more closely at the 18 schools and the remaining 50 schools to discern what needs to be done.

    Principal-on-assignment Michael McNerney, who is heading the review, said all schools will be ranked based on six safety indicators. Some schools may be added to the top-priority list, while some of the 18 buildings identified Monday may be dropped from it.

    None of the violations endanger the lives of children, McNerney said. All fire alarm systems and sprinkler systems — with the exception of Cape Coral High School — work, although some fire marshals say some of the systems are outdated and due for upgrades. For example, a strobe light might be broken or flammable materials may be stored improperly.

    Cape Coral High is temporarily employing fire watchers, people who patrol the halls looking for flames or smoke.

    “We would really like to come to closure on this,” said Cape High Principal Wayne Nagy. “We do appreciate the support our new superintendent is giving to get this job done correctly.”

    Problems there include a malfunctioning pressure pump, which keeps going off on its own, sprinklers that don’t spray in a correct radius and a need to install sprinklers in the gymnasium.

    The following schools are on a preliminary priority list for fire code repairs. Officials will do a more comprehensive review during the week and are hoping to issue a final list Friday. All schools, however, will be reviewed for code compliance and ranked in order of priority according to six criteria: life safety systems (fire alarms and sprinklers); egress; electrical and venting; housekeeping (i.e. storage of flammables); accessibility for the fire department; staff training.
    • Sanibel School
    • Spring Creek Elementary
    • Heights Elementary
    • Lehigh Elementary
    • Lehigh Acres Middle
    • Riverdale High
    • Dunbar High
    • Cape Elementary
    • Gateway Elementary
    n North Fort Myers High
    • Buckingham Exceptional Student Education Center
    • Fort Myers Beach Elementary
    • Trafalgar Middle
    • Sunshine Elementary
    • Pelican Elementary
    • Bonita Middle
    • Bayshore Elementary
    • San Carlos Park Elementary
    • Gwynne Building (district offices)

    Several fire officials say the problems in their districts are minor compared to Cape High.

    “For the most part it’s minor stuff, but it’s the same stuff,” said Tice Fire Chief Shelton Reynolds. “It’s the stuff that the school can take care of itself that’s not getting fixed.”

    He hopes to see more awareness of fire-related issues in the district — and in society at large.

    Browder’s discovery and his construction moratorium are hints at larger issues facing the district — problems with accountability and oversight of renovation work, of the district’s method of managing the firms that work on its schools and of its relationship with the experts who could help prevent such problems in the future.

    Officials from several Lee County fire districts say the district has made great strides in its code repairs.

    But some fire marshals also say they’re not surprised that problems linger.

    “They don’t have an internal system in place,” said Estero fire marshal Mike Cato.

    Those in different departments don’t talk. There’s no system of plan review, Cato said.

    “There just doesn’t seem to be much accountability. A lot of times a school will have the work done, but the work will be done incorrectly,” Cato said.

    An example: He’s seen smoke detectors positioned too closely to air conditioning vents, rendering them ineffective because the vents could blow smoke away from the detectors. A design review conducted by an expert in fire detection could have eliminated that problem.

    Others agree, saying schools don’t have to go through the same inspection and review procedures that other commercial buildings must undergo. That loophole in the law caused the school district’s problems in the first place, fire officials said.

    “If we did it right the first time, it’d save a lot of money and a lot of time,” Cato said.

    It’s not just Lee County, Cato said. He’s seen the same problems in other Florida school districts.

    Browder acknowledged the flaws and said he’s already initiated new procedures to keep such problems from happening again.

    From now on, the facilities, maintenance and safety departments will review all plans and a fire inspector will sign off on them before work begins, Browder said.
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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