Hank Investigates: Crumbling Classrooms
Answer: It's both. Kids have classes in the town hall because the school is too small.
There's exposed insulation and peeling paint in a kitchen. Is it some third-rate diner? No, it's a middle school.
And where would you think pipes, lights and exposed wires are -- a slum apartment? An unfinished basement? Nope, it's the hall of the Webster Middle School.
And our investigation found thousands of Massachusetts students are going to school with cracked walls, moldy classrooms, leaking roofs, inadequate ventilation and dangerous wiring with little handicapped accessibility and even with fire hazards.
Our investigation found the state Department of Education doesn't really know.
- David Driscoll, MA Commissioner Of Education
"We know there's a lot of need out there, but we don't specifically keep those statistics."
So we did the first-ever local survey of Massachusetts public schools.
We called every school district in the state, and our results were shocking. Two out of 3 superintendents we talked to reported at least one school in urgent need of repair. Of those with unacceptable conditions:
Seventy-two percent report heating problems. In Milton where it's so cold, kids wear coats to class.
In Webster, kids are often sweltering in the winter.
Thirty-nine percent report safety hazards. At Haverhill High School the hallway doors fail the fire code.
At Auburn High School there's asbestos insulation on pipes and exposed wiring and leaky windows creating mold.
- Rocco Moran, Principal
"We're afraid the mold is going to get to a point where it's going to create health issues not only for the children but also for the staff and faculty that work here."
Fifty percent of schools reported poor ventilation, and 50 percent report electrical and wiring problems. Fifty-five percent report leaking roofs and windows. At Milton's Pierce Middle School some classrooms are inundated when it rains.
And 67 percent say there's just not enough room. There's a classroom in a coat closet, in a windowless storage room, in a dressing room. They're even putting one in a locker room.
How can that happen in Massachusetts?
- David Driscoll
"Well that shouldn't be. It isn't our responsibility. It's the responsibility at the local level."
Here's why. The state legislature stopped paying for school repairs 11 years ago. That left towns to fix problems with their own money. And superintendents know what happens every time town officials and taxpayers say no.
And because school buildings often look fine from the outside, parents may be shocked when they hear from kids about the inside.
"He said yesterday we were evacuated from French class because we had a flood in the classroom and today we were evacuated from English because the radiator burst."
We showed our results to Dr. Joseph Rappa. He's an expert on effects of school conditions on student learning.
- Dr. Joseph Rappa
"I think they make a tremendous difference. I look at this and I go 'We have a problem.'"
The state has paid $240 million to build new schools, but while there are classes in basements, water-soaked floors and unregulated heat, educators say it's the kids who wind up paying the most.