How to Spend School Money? Start with the Bathrooms.

Apr 24, 2013

Earlier this month, the General Assembly approved a financing plan for the first phase of a 10-year, $2.4 billion project to upgrade Baltimore city’s deteriorating schools. Now, officials at some of those schools are telling district administrators how they want their schools to look.

Schools CEO Andres Alonso, says agreements still have to be hammered out with city and state officials, but once that’s done, work can begin on 15 of the district’s worst schools.

"We are already going to start with some of the renovations next year and then what we hope is to begin breaking ground on the schools the year after that."

Cherry Hill Elementary/Middle School is one of the first 15 schools that will be renovated or rebuilt from scratch. The school was built in 1945 and Principal Tracey Garrett says it has many problems, such as broken doors that are either hard to open and close or don’t work at all. The gym’s front door has a sign directing students to use an alternate entrance, because its’ latches are broken.  

"They have had a lot of major problems with the roof as well. It gets patched, but like right there, she said pointing to the ceiling, that means there’s something wet."

Brown water spots dot the ceiling in numerous places, including around a pipe in the cafeteria.

"The custodians have to look at it every day to ensure there’s no water on the floor. They came out and re-piped it, but the top part, and that’s concrete, it still has the water stains. "

Some teachers have colorful shower curtains hanging over their classroom windows because they leak too. Erin Ford teaches fourth and fifth grades at Cherry Hill.

"A lot of water comes in through the windows so it’s very hard to display a lot of work. Some things have gotten ruined. We try to make sure things do not get affected, but that’s what we’re working with today."

Garrett says another issue is the school is overheated in the winter and has no air conditioning in the warm months. 

"If it’s 80 degrees, it feels like 90 or 95 in here. We will be looking forward to a facility where each room can be controlled individually for heating and cooling. "

There’s also no playground equipment for Cherry Hill’s 340 Pre-K through eighth grade students. Recess takes place on the parking lot.

"We ask teachers not to park past the edge of the building so the kids can have the open space to the left."

The huge, asphalt lot, has no basketball courts or grass areas for sports like football or soccer. 

"When we think of the new building and new greenery space and soft tops when kids slide off the sliding boards and won’t get injured, those are things our kids are looking forward to. "

Student Delante Wagstaff, who had spent the day with his class on a field trip to Howard University, says there’s something else the school needs.

"Bathrooms: that’s something I’d rather get changed. They need to be tidier."

The bathrooms aren’t handicapped compliant and the fixtures are worn. Garrett says they are old but clean. In one girls’ bathroom, a bucket leaned against the wall under a sink to catch water leaking from a pipe. The bathroom was off limits until repairs are completed

One bright spot in the building is Cherry Hill’s computer lab. Cherry Hill, a STEM school—science, technology, engineering and math—has a large, air-conditioned computer lab that all students use. But teachers use fans in the Smart Lab across the hall, where students work on robotics and competitive projects. They share computers because the lab can’t accommodate all of the computers available.

"The typical (Smart) lab is probably twice the size as this. That’s why we are really excited about our school being renovated and having the space we need for teams of kids to come in and compete against each other. "

Garrett, who attended Cherry Hill and has a son in the fourth-grade here, takes pride in the school. She makes sure the halls are clean, and to encourage students, teachers post signs with the colleges they attended outside their doors. This year, the students passed state standardized exams and all other required objectives.

"We talk to them about getting a new school, because they deserve it and deserve to be in a place where they’re comfortable. "

Garrett hopes to see construction or renovations underway in 2014. During that time, she and her students will move into Patapsco Elementary next door, which is closing.