Budget Buster Looms at Garfield

City and school officials are bracing for what could be a structural catastrophe at the Garfield School – a catastrophe in the sense that the repair bill could become a budget buster.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, apparently a large concrete panel on the outer façade of the Garfield School – specifically on the outside of the pool room – broke off from the building.

Upon further inspection, it was determined that an air vent from the pool had been allowing water into the panel areas, causing the metal fasteners that hold them onto the building to rust. In the case of the panel that fell, the extreme winds from Sandy blew into the vent, caused backpressure inside the pool area and snapped that large, pre-cast concrete panel off its rusted metal fasteners.

“It’s like a kick in the teeth,” said Mayor Dan Rizzo. “The Garfield could become a problem. There was a concern with the garage, but that looks like it has been shored up now. However, the long-term fix on the problem could be $500,000 or it could be $2 million. We’re waiting to see what the engineers report to us.”

Superintendent Paul Dakin and Fire Chief Gene Doherty – as well as Building Department officials – were called to the school late last week and had to order the shutdown of the Garfield garage. A rusted header over the entrance to the garage garnered a great deal of concern – with engineers wondering if it was in any way connected to the rust problem that afflicted the façade panels.

That problem, however, was solved relatively easily and the garage situation doesn’t look to be a major undertaking.

“The garage piece of this didn’t seem to be connected to the other part of the problem, so the garage was fixed in-house over the weekend and opened back up on Monday,” said Dakin.

The same easy fix likely won’t come for the façade panels outside of the Garfield Pool room.

The large, heavy panels are held in place by large metal clips that are fastened onto the school’s walls. In most areas of the building, those clips are not exposed and elements cannot penetrate them. However, in the pool area, the ventilation system allowed water and the elements to compromise the metal clips – making at least one of them rust out. The strong East winds from the Hurricane exposed that long-time problem and created enough force to break away the metal clips.

Now, the schools are looking to see if any more of these panels and their clips are also rusted and compromised.

If they are, it will likely mean a very expensive structural fix.

“There is a long-term concern,” said Dakin. “I think what they will want to do is investigate further how much has rusted out and how that particular panel rusted out…I think this could be an expensive proposition.”

One source close to the investigation of the panels told the Journal that it was likely “the Beachmont School all over again,” referring to the disastrous, unexpected $2 million clean up of heating oil discovered under that school in 2003.

Yet another source indicated that the problem has been going on for quite some time and should have been caught internally, and that the ventilation system at the pool probably should have been maintained better. That, perhaps, could have eliminated the problem before it became this bad.

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