Randal Haslam calls himself the bearer of bad tidings.
He brought a double dose of bad news to the Jordan District school board in March.First, he told the board members the district would have to spend $50 million to bring its schools and administration buildings up to earthquake code. Then he told them it would take another $50 million to take care of the rest of the district's life-safety needs, primarily fire safety.
The district doesn't have $100 million to spend on retrofitting its buildings. And even if it did, the money would only correct the problems already evident, Haslam said. In some cases - particularly older schools - it would cost the district more to retrofit than to build a new school.
Haslam is the district's architect. He's also the district's fire marshal, trained by the state fire marshal as part of a four-district pilot school safety program.
District fire marshals keep track of the long-term life safety needs in their schools. They also keep after teachers, administrators and students to maintain day-to-day safety practices.
It's an uphill battle.
Jordan's elementary schools were set up on an "open classroom" concept. As built, the classrooms were up to code. But when teachers partition off their classes with bookshelves or cabinets to cut down on noise and other distractions, the code goes out the window.
Deputy state fire marshal John T. Elder said the district has been unable to stay in compliance with the fire codes written for open classrooms. But closing in the classrooms would be expensive.
The district has set aside a varying amount of money each year to pay for fire safety retrofits. They try to take care of two or three schools each year, Haslam said.
For example, Jordan High is now getting a new sprinkler system, but the district needs to spend another $500,000 to finish the job. Some of the district's elementary schools need $300,000 in upgrades, and as schools are remodeled, 1970s-vintage alarm systems will be replaced with new, up-to-code systems.
Jordan district is doing a good job of anticipating and paying for its fire safety needs, the state fire marshal said.
Haslam agrees. "We have tried really hard in our district to push ahead of the problem," he said.
But the district is five to 10 years away from finishing the job, and by then, it is likely that a whole new set of needs will emerge.