School maintenance fails test

Loudon County board members say problem not just at Greenback

Hugh G. Willett
Friday, November 9, 2007

Maintenance was the big issue at the Loudon County Board of Education meeting Thursday night, and as usual Greenback school was the poster child.

Greenback parent Lisa Russell took the lectern and set the tone for the session even before the board could address issues on the agenda that included fire-code compliance and heating and cooling systems at Greenback.

Russell said she has reviewed several years of maintenance records for Greenback that she said show a pattern of slow repairs that have resulted in classrooms going for months without heat in the winter and fire-code violations that were not addressed for five years.

"I spoke with the fire marshal, and he said there are many items out of compliance at Greenback school," Russell said.

Although the school board voted to build a new school for Greenback, it will be several years before the new building will be ready.

"It's going to be three, maybe four years before anyone occupies the new building. We have to make some arrangements for maintenance," board member Bill Marcus said.

Board Chairman Bobby Johnson Jr. said that studies had pinpointed mechanical issues such as heating, ventilation and air conditioning as the biggest weakness in all the school system's buildings.

Other board members agreed that while Greenback was the most obvious example of poor maintenance, the problem was systemwide.

"We've got real problems with maintenance," agreed board member Freddie Gene Walker.

Walker pointed out that the new school building program, estimated at more than $100 million in the first phase, required improved maintenance to maintain the investment in facilities.

Walker said he was also concerned that fire alarms and other critical life safety issues were being ignored.

"We need to find someone to investigate that things are being done," he said.

Board member Leroy Tate suggested that the board consider contracting with an outside firm to assist county maintenance and ensure that life safety issues are addressed in a timely manner.

"Can we get some reliable company to help?" he asked.