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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, June 29, 2006

Schools OK; restrooms flunk test

By Beverly Creamer
Advertiser Education Writer

All but one of the state's 253 schools passed the annual Department of Education inspection, but more than 10 percent fell short on the condition of their restrooms or drinking fountains.

In the overall report, presented yesterday to a Board of Education committee, only Aliamanu Elementary failed. The reason: cracking floors and shifting walls because of unstable soil. The good news is that work to address the problem is already under way, a DOE official said.

This is the first year that teams have inspected restrooms and drinking fountains as part of the annual school inspection survey. And while the DOE said there was overall improvement in bathroom facilities, 28 schools failed the inspection based on such condition assessment categories as floors, walls, supplies, partitions, odors and the condition of urinals and toilets.

Poorly stocked and maintained restrooms have been a perennial complaint, noted Board of Education member Karen Knudsen. She said she was pleased to hear about the improvements but hoped they wouldn't be short-lived.

"This has been such an ongoing issue for so many years," Knudsen said.

Gilbert Chun, acting director of the DOE's accountability branch, which includes the school inspection program, said the department had recommended custodians adopt a daily checklist that includes stocking towels and toilet paper.

Student board member Darren Ibara noted that students report to him how much better restrooms are now.

"Paper towels and soap are now in a lot of school bathrooms," he said.

Those schools scoring an "unacceptable" rating in the restroom or fountain survey created action plans to improve, and custodians were given help and instruction in how to deep clean.

In the overall report, 142 schools were rated "acceptable" and 110 were rated "very good," with 44 of the latter hitting a "perfect" rating. That's an improvement over a year ago when two schools failed. Typically, only a few fail, and in some years none fail.

The entire school inspection procedure has been made more rigorous as a result of the collapse of a ceiling at Kailua Intermediate School last year. Now, after the initial inspection by a school and community committee, school inspection program coordinator Gary Yasui looks at all the reports, with special attention to those where the schools report problems.

The school inspections were conducted by community and school teams at each institution, and included more than 1,500 people who volunteered their time for hours of ratings to evaluate their schools.

Aliamanu has been cited in the past because of the unstable ground on which it sits, but the school was already scheduled for renovations under a program to revamp all of the state's old schools.

Not only is the soil unstable, but months of drought followed by 40 days of rain earlier this year made problems worse, Chun said.

"The classroom floors are cracking and the walls are shifting," Chun said.

"We had planned to fix those classrooms when we did the classroom renovation projects, but the project has already been initiated. We'll start construction very shortly."

The cracking affects almost every classroom building and Chun said it could take six months to a year to complete repairs. One classroom building will be done at a time, with students moved into other areas of campus where they can be accommodated, he said.

Next year the department plans to assign certain complex areas to particular managers so they can become experts in the needs in their complex area.

Reach Beverly Creamer at bcreamer@honoluluadvertiser.com.