7Investigates: Falling Apart

BOSTON (WHDH) - Students from across Massachusetts are heading back to their classrooms, and they’re dealing with crumbling conditions.

A number of schools have failing heaters and leaking ceilings. Some of them are actually falling apart, but there isn’t enough money to make the needed repairs.

7Investigates why.

Water dripping from the ceiling, into buckets, are conditions inside some Fitchburg classrooms.

“I was shocked that it was that bad,” said Fitchburg City Councilor Sam Squailia.

Last fall, staff members took pictures and video inside Arthur Longsjo Middle School. They sent them to Squailia, who shared them on Facebook. Her post sparked an uproar.

“When you see these pictures, you might think, ‘Where … what decrepit area is this in,'” she said. “We’re not funding the infrastructure to maintain our schools.”

7News obtained documents and pictures from inside the 20 schools that were rated in the worst physical condition during a statewide survey by the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MBSA) in 2016.

The MBSA found window frames rotting in Tewksbury, ceilings falling down in New Bedford, (heating) vents failing in East Bridgewater, students wearing jackets to stay warm in Worcester, the disintegration of wood in Scituate, and staff working out of a closet in Easton.

Statewide, one in 13 schools is more than 100 years old, and 270 were judged to need significant renovations now or in the near future.

“You can see it’s going to be a long time before we get to all of those 270 schools,” said Jack McCarthy of the Massachusetts School Building Authority.

The School Building Authority leads school construction at the state level. Currently, it gets one penny of the state’s sales tax, which typically covers 80 percent of the costs for a project like this in Boston. Without that money, many districts can’t afford to repair or rebuild.

“We look to find the most urgent and needy schools and those are the ones that we invite into our process,” McCarthy said.

But each year, more than 150 schools apply for funding. Last year, only 51 schools got it, the lowest total in several years.

The School Building Authority’s spending is capped, and many local school districts can’t even afford their share of the costs.

State Representative Stephan Hay is pushing a bill that would double the School Building Authority’s portion of the sales tax. He says he owes it to its students.

“I think it’s incumbent upon the state to find resources, make them available, and fix those schools,” Hay said.

In June, the School Building Authority OK’d targeted repairs at 34 schools, including replacing the windows and doors at this elementary school in East Boston.

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