Each year thousands of school construction jobs go well.
But, be it sickened students in Queens, or a funeral in Brooklyn, when construction
projects fail in the New York Public Schools the results can be disastrous. With School
Chancellor Rudy Crews request April 2, for than $650 million dollars to repair and
restore the citys crumbling schools - more than half of the 1998-99 proposed $1.55
billion budget - can the citys two school construction regulatory agencies, the
School Construction Authority, and the Division of School Facilities, handle the increased
On Monday, March 9, a contractor under the supervision of
the Board of Educations Division of School Facilities was sent to PS 129 in College
Point to replace some loose bricks in the chimney. NYC Board of Education spokesman J.D.
LaRock, explains what happened next:
"The contractor proceeded a little bit further and removed the chimney. The boiler
was fired up, when it shouldnt have been, causing fumes to spread throughout the
school, because there was no place for the fumes to go...the school was evacuated."
There were no reported injuries.
The incident occrred with a DSF supervisor on site.
In need of ventilation and without heat, the school remained closed Tuesday and
Wednesday, March 10, and 11, until a temporary boiler was installed in the school yard.
While PS 129 was closed, its 700 students were sent to other schools
In light of such debacles, Queens school officials give contrasting views on whether
the SCA and the DSF are adequately supervising construction crews at public schools in
"Were not happy with the level of supervision of the agency," said
District 25 Superintendant Arthur Greenburg. "Its obvious to us that
contractors or sub-contractors are not being supervised adequately enough."
Three construction projects within District 25, at PS 200, PS 154 and PS 168, have
district officials concerned. Window and caulking replacement at the schools were done
improperly, officials say, releasing lead paint particles into the school.
New York Citys Board of Education, through the School Construction Authority
(SCA), and the citys Division of School Facilities (DSF), supplies, assigns and
oversees construction crews at public schools throughout the city.
The SCA is responsible for the design, construction, modernization and rehabilitation
of public schools in New York City.
When repairs are needed, school officials call the Division of School Facilities. The
DSF determines the severity of the repair, and whether it falls within the scope of the
DSF or the SCA. The DSF sets the priority of the repairs within the district.
School Construction Authority contractors
have been replacing windows at P.S. 200 in Flushing.
District 30 Assistant Superintendent John Yacavone said while he is satisfied overall
with the level of construction supervision on larger projects, supervision is lacking in
the smaller projects handled by the SCA and the DSF. "I think the SCA may be spread a
little too thin. We also have that problem with the DSF. Right now they only react to
emergency requests. Other things like electrical outlets they dont consider an
School Board 25 President Sally Kahn said sources within the DSF has told the school
board that, "they need better management." But she added that "there are
many, many projects going on all over the city."
SCA spokesman Fred Winters said that all SCA contracts are competitively bid to
contractors or sub-contractors that are pre-qualified. Credentials for specific trades are
trade specific, but the SCA looks for those with clean backgrounds, adequate safety
backgrounds, and training.
The SCA relies on its own inspectors, and construction supervisors from contracted
construction companies to supervise construction sites. Winter would not give the number
of SCA inspectors, but said that there are adequate inspectors "to insure compliance
in all but the minimum number of cases.
"No matter how many inspectors there are theres always room for error, or
inappropriate behavior," he added. "We think the SCA has an excellent
inspectional capacity and program.
"If a contractor fails to abide by the law, or fails to abide by SCA policies that
they agreed to abide by in the SCA contract, then thats a clear violation and ...
the contractor is fired," Winter said. "But, its a rare occurrence.
The contractor and construction manager at PS 200, Arch-Con and Parsons Brinkerhoff,
were both fired after the problems were discovered.
"Are we spread too thin?," Winters asked rhetorically. "No," he
While the SCA has come under fire in District 25, officials at School Board 24 have
"What problems do exist is due to contractors," said District 24 Deputy
Superintendent August Sacciccio. "Basically, when theres a job going on I think
many times we run into small problems with the contractors or the sub-contractors that
they have to hire.Youre going to find that on the individual jobs its up to
who the contractor is. On certain jobs theyre going to screw up a bit."
Winters estimated that there are approximately 10 construction managers at the SCA, and
their job functions are to supervise all construction associated with a project.
But Sacciccio said that the SCA is aware of problems. "If something doesnt
go right-they just stop it, period," he said. "In that sense Im getting
the support that I need. "