City school is falling apart

2008-06-09 00:00

BURST pipes have left Northbury Park Secondary in Northdale without water for a week and parents fuming at the unsanitary conditions — but this is only the latest in a long list of needed repairs that never get done.

Since last Wednesday, water has only flowed from one tap, forcing more than 1 000 pupils to use a hosepipe and buckets to fill the toilet cisterns.

Parent Ronny Chetty said the smell from the toilets is becoming unbearable for the pupils.

“I contacted the principal, who told me he was waiting for the department [of Education] to do something. When I eventually got through to the MEC’s office after several attempts, they said they had not received any letter from the school. Everyone is shifting the blame, but something needs to be done,” said Chetty.

Yesterday, the contractor hired by the Public Works Department to fix the school’s water problem rushed to the scene after The Witness started investigating reports that they abandoned the school after cutting the water off and digging out pipes.

However, it appears the burst pipes are only a side issue of a long-standing and grave problem.

The Witness has in its possession a letter from the Public Works Department declaring more than five areas in the school premises out of bounds and unsafe.

This is apparently as a result of shifting soil, which causes water pipes to shift and fracture.

Governing body chairman Karan Singh said pipes have needed repair in the same area more than four times in the past three years. In total, 10 repairs have been necessary as a direct result of the leaks.

A letter written in early 2006 says that steps up steep banks in the schoolyard have been undermined by leaks and shifting soil and had to be cordoned off.

Engineers identified the problem after the school made a requisition to the Education Department’s physical planning unit.

However, since that letter, nothing appears to have been done.

Singh said the Education Department is responsible for fixing structural damage as it is partly responsible for the maintenance of public schools.

“We have been battling for over five years to get the school fixed. Here we have parts of the school that have been condemned by engineers. We have the main entrance shut off because of the collapsing staircase. What happens in an emergency?”

He said the School Governing Body had spoken to the Education Department on numerous occasions, and written to both departments.

“Every year, the repairs get approved and money is allocated, but we continue to be sidelined and our children’s lives compromised,” said Singh.

The Education Department has admitted that it does not have the budget for regular maintenance or to fix urgent problems, while still trying to build thousands of classrooms and toilets in under-resourced schools.

However, a source said that at Northbury Park, Public Works engineers took a long time to draw up plans, and these were then found to be inadequate, and private consultants had to be called in.

Education spokeswoman Mbali Thusi said the department is aware of the situation at Northbury Park, but major repairs will only be funded in the 2009/10 budget.

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