“How are we keeping things together?” said Principal Deborah Owens. “With duct tape mostly. We’ve been jerry-rigging everything we can, so we can function.”
In 2006, Miami Norland did get a new gym. But the district just this year budgeted $500,000 for the design of the new main campus. And that new gym is already dealing with problems. Doorframes show cracked sheetrock. Metal siding stretches across the walls so that the bleachers — too wide — don’t scrape when pulled out for games.
“If you look at our five-year plan five years ago, Norland should have had a new school by now — if we had the money to do it,” Torrens said. “It was always our intent to do it. We recognize the need there. It’s been a patchwork.”
At G.K.E. Sabal Palm in North Miami Beach, fourth-grade teacher Sandra Raines said her students complain of headaches and feeling sick in the portable classroom. The glass window slats don’t keep in the cooled air. And Raines said it often smells moldy. She showed her classroom to Vice President Joe Biden in September when he came to South Florida to stump for the Obama Administration’s Jobs Bill.
At Northeast High School in Pompano Beach, air-quality checks are conducted several times a month in the summer and spring because the school’s AC is constantly breaking down, Principal Jonathan E. Williams said. The checks are done to make sure mold is not accumulating, potentially causing a health hazard.
The school is waiting for funds to become available for a $28 million replacement facility. Until then, workers nurse the aging chiller that shuts down four to five times a month during the warmer months.
“It’s a challenge,” Williams said. “But what I tell my parents is, ‘It’s not the age of the building, it’s what’s going on inside of the building.’ ”
Fairlawn Elementary School in Miami, is getting $800,000 in improvements to its older buildings, which date to 1951. A lot of the wood near the window frames is rotted, and the white paint with turquoise trim is peeling.
“If it rains a lot, water comes into our classroom, and there are termites and ants. You do things to protect the children, but nature is nature,” said third-grade teacher Maria Escribano.
Last fall, U.S. Deputy Secretary of Education Tony Miller visited Fairlawn, touring the media center and several classrooms, including Escribano’s. But he missed the last building in the back, where the paint is peeling more, the stairs fell apart a few years ago and painted plywood serves as a wall.
Even with the shoddy facilities, Fairlawn is thriving, earning an A grade from the state for the last nine years. Its community classes for youngsters and adults, from knitting, violin, cheerleading and flamenco, are popular, keeping the classrooms busy after the bell rings.
Often it’s the push from parents and volunteers that prompts repairs.
Last school year, Hallandale High School got some attention after members of the Broward School District’s diversity committee inspected the 38-year-old facility, which was on the district’s list of priority projects. With photos, parents documented problems — a gaping hole in the ceiling of the boys’ locker room, metal lockers peeled open like sardine cans exposing sharp edges, and the eyewash in a biology classroom spewing water in different directions.