When heavy rain deluged central Ohio during the second weekend of September, the calls from building principals came flooding in to Superintendent Andy Culp when school resumed the following Monday.
"All three buildings were experiencing significant water damage due to leaks," Culp said. "It was happening in multiple rooms in each building."
Leaks are in the forecast anytime major storms occur, said Brett Bradley, the district's director of facilities.
"I know it's going to happen," he said. "It's just a question of how many leaks."
The issue is one example of a myriad of maintenance concerns at district buildings.
Those issues are why the district undertook a study of its facilities that has resulted in a proposed facilities plan, potentially funded with the passage of Issue 6 on the Nov. 6 ballot, Culp said.
The bond issue would fund a $55.2 million project that would include constructing a new 4-8 building on the site of the current Edison Intermediate/Larson Middle School; comprehensively renovating Grandview Heights High School; and completing limited upgrades to Stevenson Elementary School.
Safety and security measures would be added at each school and a connector would link the high school with the new 4-8 building.
The work at Stevenson would include only safety and security measures and make the building compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Issue 6 also includes a 1.0-mill operating levy.
The combined millage would cost homeowners $239 more in taxes annually for each $100,000 of property valuation.
Schools over the hill?
The original sections of the three schools are all more than 90 years old. Edison/Larson was built in 1911, the high school in 1922 and Stevenson Elementary School in 1926.
"The systems and roofing we have in those original buildings are worn out," Culp said.
Three years ago, the district hired a consultant to complete a comprehensive facilities assessment.
"The assessment showed that we had $44.2 million in deferred maintenance," Culp said. "Issue 6 is a community-driven plan to address those issues."
Anyone taking a tour of the high school and Edison/Larson buildings would be able to see numerous examples of deficiencies in the buildings, Bradley said.
"The academic and instructional success we have is in spite of those issues," Culp said.
Bradley said he has a "wish list" of the top priorities that need to be addressed in the school buildings.
The top priority is to enhance security features at each building, he said.
"Ensuring the safety and security of our students is job one," Culp said.
"It's something you have to think about with everything that's happening in today's world," Bradley said.
HVAC systems are another area of concern.
Hot or cold weather can make conditions inside the buildings uncomfortable for students and staff due to the current systems' inadequate ventilation, Bradley said.
"You can go in some classrooms on certain days and a student in one part of the room is wearing a coat and a student in another portion is burning up," he said.
Another priority is to add a sprinkler system to the schools, Bradley said.
All of the district's buildings also need to be made compliant with current ADA standards.
"None of the main entrances or secondary entrances at any of our school buildings are accessible for people in wheelchairs," Culp said. "No school that would be built today would be allowed to have that situation."
All of those issues would be addressed with the proposed facilities plan, Bradley said.
The district has a permanent-improvement budget that provides $550,000 annually for maintenance issues.
That is simply not enough, Bradley said -- especially since half of the money is earmarked for technology upgrades.
"Every year we have to sit down and evaluate what our current maintenance and repair needs are and prioritize what we can do that year," he said. "We're never able to do it all. We're always playing catch-up."
It's a struggle to retrofit the 20th-century buildings to meet 21st-century learning standards, Culp said.
"Our building improvements would help us provide an environment where form and function meets modern learning and teaching styles," he said.
On a recent school day, Culp pointed out to a visitor that students in the Edison/Larson building were sitting on a hallway floor and stairwell as they completed an assignment.
"That's exactly what I'm talking about when I mention form and function," Culp said. "We're having to shoehorn our students where we can find room."
Adjacent to the superintendent's office in the high school is a room with six large windows.
"This would be a perfect classroom space, but for years now we've had to use it as storage space," Culp said.
The room currently is being used to store costumes and props for the fall play.
"We have students attending classes in rooms without any windows," Culp said. "That's not an atmosphere that is conducive to learning."
Storage space could be available in the high school basement, but it's taken up by large boilers that haven't been used for years, Bradley said.
The ceiling in the Oakland Avenue hallway of the high school has a gaping hole where a large section of plaster has fallen to the floor.
"This had nothing to do with rain and water damage," Bradley said. "It's just old plaster that is beginning to fall apart."
Fortunately, the plaster fell when no one was in the building -- but small pieces come down often, he said, adding it could be just a matter of time before another large section drops.
"We were lucky," Bradley said. "The portion of the ceiling is just outside a classroom and if it had fallen while students were coming in or out of the classroom, someone would have been seriously hurt."
The visible issues are concerning, "but my biggest concerns are about the things we can't see," Bradley said.
"It's the stuff in the walls: the plumbing, the electrical work, the duct work. Those type of things in these old buildings are what worry me the most, because they are so antiquated," he said. "Not a week goes by that we're not unclogging drains.
"These buildings were built in a different era. When the high school was built, the enrollment was much less than it is today," Bradley said. "Now we have more than 300 people in the building, and these old systems aren't built to handle that, especially given their age."
The Edison/Larson building is a hodge-podge, with the original 1911 building wrapped on three sides by additions built in 1930, 1971 and 1996.
"The circulation of people within the building is really awkward," Culp said. "One of the architects who was involved in doing an assessment of the Edison/Larson building said it was the most 'Frankenstein-like' building he had ever seen, just because of the way each new addition had been put in haphazardly.
"It's really easy for someone coming into the building to get lost," he said.