The process of building a new school is a challenging, yet rewarding, moment for the school population and community as a whole. Years of planning, collaboration, hard work, and plenty of money culminate in a facility that everyone can be proud of and that will serve the area for decades.
But imagine the feeling when the new building everyone was so proud of suddenly is deemed unsafe after the first year of use, and now sits empty and unfit to occupy. Then, you find out you are not alone and that numerous other newly constructed and renovated school buildings in the area also were poorly built and are rife with various degrees of safety issues. How could this happen? What went wrong with school construction?
This is the case at numerous schools in Colorado. To make it more disturbing, all were constructed by the same firm—the Neenan Co. To date, 15 recently constructed school buildings were identified as having structural issues of varying degrees of seriousness—one, Meeker Elementary School, which was completed in fall 2010, remains closed. It was discovered that the school had been designed with a building-code standard used for storage sheds and was at risk of collapse in severe weather.
Ironically, the majority of the affected schools received money through a grant program dedicated to making school buildings safer: Colorado’s Building Excellent Schools Today (BEST) program.
With all of the checks and balances that are part of the school construction process, you have to wonder how something so widespread and potentially catastrophic could happen. Somewhere the process broke down—repeatedly.
Hopefully, the affected schools will be repaired quickly and competently, and the agencies, officials, inspectors, and groups providing money for construction will be more diligent in future facilities projects. First and foremost, school facilities must be designed and constructed with safety being paramount—and all resources must be used to ensure that these buildings will be safe havens for children and occupants.
Agron is editor-in-chief of AS&U.