A group of Uintah Elementary School parents met Friday with Superintendent John Bennion to push for a commitment to address safety issues in the 78-year-old building.
More than 30 violations of fire-safety codes have been listed by the state fire marshal, who is pushing for immediate upgrades on some of the problems and has threatened to close the building if they are not dealt with.Parents want a more long-range solution to the problems. They would be willing to ask the fire marshal to hold off on some of the required upgrading if the district would commit to a plan for either retrofitting or replacing the structure at 1227 S. 1500 East. A delay would save the district money, but Steve Harmon, director of facilities, said he believes the fire marshal would not be willing to delay the most urgent renovations. A $30,000 to $40,000 stairway upgrade is being planned.
Although the meeting was mainly amicable, Uintah PTA President Ann Story emphasized that parents intend to "pursue this in a dogged manner. We've been neglected and unjustifiably so." She said parents were resentful that they "stumbled across" a fire marshal's report on serious building hazards and were not informed by district officials of the report.
Randy Green, spokesman for the parents, said that the structural difficulties have impeded improvements in academic programs. The school has not been able to accommodate a computer lab or other modern educational innovations. Classrooms are small and seriously overcrowded. Corridors have been used for instructional space.
The Uintah parents drew a comparison with Hawthorne Elementary, which was replaced recently because of similar safety issues. That process went relatively quickly, they said.
Assistant Superintendent Mary Jean Johnson pointed out, however, that the district is responding now to a series of seismic studies that will dictate major building decisions over the next few years. She said the Uintah problems should be studied in light of the overall demand on the district to meet seismic standards.
Bennion was sympathetic to the group's request for an immediate study of the school's structure, but said demands that such a study be completed within 60 days are not feasible. "These things always take longer than we anticipate," he said. "It is out of our hands."
Bennion suggested that instead of demanding a precipitous time line to address the problems, the group should ask the board to make Uintah a priority in its next budget cycle - a request more likely to be accepted by the board.
The parents group will present a revised petition reflecting Bennion's advice to the Board of Education at an Oct. 2 meeting.