Records released Wednesday show that Portland school officials were discussing “major” fixes to lead in drinking water at 15 schools a month before the district publicly acknowledged problems.
Portland Public Schools Senior Facilities Director David Hobbs raised three issues as “major health and safety concerns district wide” in an email he sent in late April. The email, obtained by OPB, mentions asbestos and roofs. But the most expensive item mentioned is lead in drinking water.
Hobbs listed a $7 million price tag to fix lead issues at “15 priority schools.” He doesn’t list the schools, but writes next to it: “major safety hazard for drinking water.”
OPB requested the list of 15 schools that Hobbs highlighted as needing re-piping, but PPS spokesperson Christine Miles said such a list does not exist. Instead, she explained that the district was speaking generally and would use the bond measure money to address the 15 most problematic schools once it was raised.
Hobbs’ message was sent to several people, including Chief of School Modernization Jerry Vincent and Tony Magliano, the chief operating officer who’s now on paid administrative leave. Also copied on the message were PPS Operations Director Dan Jung and Kenneth F. Fisher, project manager for the district’s 2012 bond projects.
Hobbs’ message laid out potential improvement projects for inclusion in a bond measure planned for November.
It was almost a month after the April 29 email that parents started learning about elevated lead levels at two schools — Creston and Rose City Park. On May 27, Portland Public Schools announced it was shutting off drinking water at all district schools.
When the district shut off all of its water, Superintendent Carole Smith sent a letter to concerned parents.
“We are taking all of these steps out of an abundance of caution for our students, our teachers, and our staff, as we work to determine whether additional schools have elevated levels of lead in the drinking water,” Smith wrote.
In the weeks that followed, media organizations received a 261-page spreadsheet listing lead testing results dating back to 2001. Many schools showed fixtures with lead levels above EPA standards.
PPS followed up with several explanatory spreadsheets outlining remedial steps facilities staff had taken to address problems. Officials acknowledged only seven fixtures that continued to have elevated lead, including five sinks at buildings that are still in use: Applegate Elementary (home to a Head Start program), Jackson Middle School, Peninsula K-8, Vernon K-8 and Whitman Elementary School.
PPS also released spreadsheets showing $96 million worth of other health and safety building priorities, such as fire alarms, sprinklers, roof and seismic upgrades. The district provided a 13-page list of asbestos remediation projects, but said it’s only a “sampling” of projects from a larger database.
The asbestos projects total about $575,000.