Students head back to decaying classrooms
Web posted at: 7:49 p.m. EDT (2349 GMT)
From Correspondent Cynthia Tornquist
NEW YORK (CNN) -- As America's students return to school this fall, some of them will sit in classrooms that are falling apart.
According to a report by the U.S. General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, a third of the nation's schools need major repairs or outright replacement.
Sixty percent need work on major building features, while 46 percent don't have the necessary electrical wiring to handle computers and other electronic equipment.
"The American Society of Civil Engineers recently looked at all infrastructure needs in America. They looked at 10 or 12 things. Schools got an 'F,'" said Education Secretary Richard Riley.
New York City is a good example of decaying infrastructure. More than half of the city school system's 1,200 buildings are more than 50 years old. According to a 1996 report, 237 facilities were in need of immediate repairs at a cost of as much as $500 million.
"You have roofs that leak ... you have structural damage where bricks could possibly fall off or tumble off the exteriors of buildings," said Randi Weingarten, president of the United Federation of Teachers.
Falling construction debris this past January killed a 16-year-old girl outside a Brooklyn elementary school. In another incident, 10 tons of brick facade collapsed one night at a vocational school.
At George Washington High School, where former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was once a student, the roof leaked so badly that classroom ceilings collapsed.
"Unless you have continual inspections and a real program of repairs and maintenance, you never know when a building is going to fall into disrepair," Weingarten said.
Four years ago, the United Federation of Teachers filed suit to get New York City to make those inspections and improve maintenance.
On Friday, in response to a state judge's order, school officials issued a list of 161 buildings -- separate from the 1996 report -- which need immediate repairs and promised safeguards would be made at each site.
"We need money to be able to fix these facilities. I think that's probably true for every urban school system in America," said Rudy Crew, the chancellor of New York City Schools.
The problem is likely to gain urgency as school enrollment is projected to grow over the next decade.
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