Metro Schools faculty concerned with unsafe school conditions - WSMV Channel 4

Metro Schools faculty concerned with unsafe conditions in schools

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A Channel 4 I-Team investigation found faculty and staff at several Metro Nashville public schools frustrated at how long it was taking the district's maintenance staff to fix fire alarms that weren't working.

Although the Metro Schools Director of Maintenance said the problem is really a communication issue, the city's fire marshal said he's concerned.

The Channel 4 I-Team obtained more than 3,000 pages of repair requests at buildings in Metro Schools since March. These requests were submitted online by faculty and staff to notify maintenance staff about broken equipment.

Among those requests, we found an assistant principal at Hickman Elementary expressing frustration at how long it was taking to get the fire alarm working.

"We have had three previous requests for someone to service our fire alarm system," the assistant principal wrote. "This afternoon, we attempted to have a fire drill and the fire alarm system failed to activate. It should not take two months to ensure the safety of the students and faculty."

We showed the complaint to parents and grandparents of students at Hickman Elementary.

"You might have a fire in the school the next day," said grandparent Dan Lammers. "That's just straight neglect if you ask me."

And Hickman Elementary isn't alone in reporting problems with fire alarms.

The Channel 4 I-Team found more than 100 complaints between March and September with complaints of fire alarms having trouble.

Some of the reports are minor, like an alarm beeping, while several others were major, like a fire alarm failing to sound.

At Fall Hamilton Elementary, a repair request from an employee read, "This is the second request. We have had two fire drills and the alarms have gone off, and the entire third floor did not hear the alarm and were still in the building while everyone else had evacuated. This is very urgent."

The Channel 4 I-Team took these complaints to Nashville Fire Marshal Danny Hunt.

"Does this make you concerned that the schools aren't responding quickly enough?" asked chief investigative reporter Jeremy Finley.

"When you see them say they've called two or three times, that concerns me, yes," said Hunt.

The Channel 4 I-Team also discussed the complaints with Joe Edgens, the executive director of facilities and operations at Metro Schools.

"Do you think there have been cases where kids have been unprotected for a long period of time?" asked Finley.

"Not to my knowledge, Jeremy," said Edgens.

"You feel comfortable then?" Finley began.

"I feel comfortable that it hasn't been a long period of time," Edgens said.

Since March 2011, Metro Schools have been filing requests for repairs in a new online system. Once a repair request is entered it is passed on to the district's maintenance staff.

The I-Team also reviewed how long it took for the district to fix the problems.

The I-Team found that when an employee filed a request to fix a broken fire alarm at a portable classroom at Antioch High School, the district's maintenance staff lost the request.

It took seven months to fix the alarm.

And at Park Avenue Elementary, a repair request read that the fire alarm wouldn't turn off, and that the fire department showed up and said to call the maintenance department as soon as possible.

The district response showed it was fixed two days later.

We showed that response time to Hunt.

"So what if it takes days?" asked Finley.

"Then we've got issues," said Hunt, the fire marshal.

And at Kirkpatrick Elementary, a fire marshal inspection found the fire alarm system was off.

"How long has it been out?" asked Finley.

"I don't know," said Hunt.

We also found complaints of classrooms without heat, including Eakin Elementary, where an employee wrote, "This classroom has no heat. Students are having to wear coats in there."

And according to district response times, there is no record of how long it took to fix the problem because of poor paperwork.

"How do kids in a classroom learn with no heat?" asked Finley.

"What happens is, we bring in portable heaters," said Edgens.

"That's ridiculous. I wouldn't want my kid in school with just a space heater," said Mark Maddux, a parent of a Metro Schools student.

Metro Schools' maintenance staff has two people employed who do nothing but inspect and repair fire alarms for the district's more than 180 buildings.

The Channel 4 I-Team asked why, then, are there so many delays and examples of sloppy record keeping?

"There are times when things don't happen as quickly as you'd like," said Edgens. "There are usually reasons for that. When there are reasons, you try to figure out how you can correct that."

Edgens said in some cases, the school staff may not know that maintenance workers have tried to fix the problem.

Edgens said at Hickman Elementary, maintenance staff reset the system each time it failed due to lightning strikes.

"They (faculty at the school) might not have known we (maintenance staff) came out three times, that it was reset each time," said Edgens.

But even though maintenance staff responded, the alarms still didn't sound.

At Hickman Elementary, the children were safe because the school has sprinklers that would have been triggered by smoke and heat.

But not every Metro school has sprinklers.

"I'm certain we aren't perfect, we make mistakes. but I'm sure no one is taking it lightly," said Edgens.

Edgens said he doesn't have an explanation for the lost or missed repair tickets.

He also said there may be delays in repairs like broken heating systems because they have to order parts, and that takes time.

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