Thursday, January 21, 2010

Manhattan Schools Putting Student Safety At Risk

The Department of Education and the Buildings Department don't come out looking good in this New York Times report. The Times reports that 30% of schools in Manhattan suffer from buildings code violations, some of them providing serious hazards, including blocked exit doors and structural problems. There are far too many violations and many of them were open violations that had been reported years ago:
Using a random sample of more than 2,200 violations, the researchers found that infractions classified as Class 1 or hazardous had been open an average of 1,829 days — nearly five years. The sample also estimated that building owners owe the city $60 million in uncollected penalties.

“I would classify this as a crisis that is happening right before our eyes,” said Scott M. Stringer, the Manhattan borough president. “You have a quarter of a million open violations. You can’t trust the system because there’s no transparency or accountability.”

Tony Sclafani, a spokesman for the Department of Buildings, said that with new safety laws and specialized units, the department had stepped up enforcement against unsafe conditions. “But,” he added, “it is ultimately the responsibility of every private property owner to maintain their property in a safe manner. This report is incomplete because it fails to address the role of all property owners in maintaining their buildings.”

Marc La Vorgna, a spokesman for Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, said the Mayor’s Office of Operations had issued a memo to all city agencies in August 2008 to address the issue of outstanding building and fire code violations on city property. “This is a problem we’re well aware of and it is being addressed,” he said.

Citywide, Department of Education buildings had 4,567 violations at the time. That number had been reduced to 2.512 last month, Mr. La Vorgna said.

Mr. Stringer said he ordered the review after a series of building and crane collapses in the borough over the last three years, including two crane collapses in 2008 that killed nine people.

The report was limited to Manhattan, and narrowly focused on the Building Department’s role in enforcing city safety codes. It did not address the possible failings of the building’s landlords, including the Department of Education and the School Construction Authority, in maintaining their properties and correcting deficiencies.

One school building in Harlem had 15 Class 1 or hazardous violations, some dating to May 2006, citing problems from blocked exit doors and poor ventilation to interior structural cracks “causing lateral movement throughout the entire building.”

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