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The website for school construction conditions in Philadelphia is down. • Pennsylvania Capital-Star

An interactive website that provided families with key information about the physical health of Philadelphia public schools went down last month.

The site included data on 211 schools, with more than two-thirds of the schools considered “unsatisfactory” or “poor” in condition, according to a previous analysis by the Logan Center. Parents could use the website to check the results of their school’s latest inspection and find out which parts of the school were in the best and worst condition.

The district is currently creating a “warehouse” of data on all schools’ academics, environment, educational suitability, safety, retention and enrollment, among other data points, said Alexandra Coppadge, the district’s communications director. They anticipate this will be completed in December.

The website outage “is deeply problematic,” said City Councilor Nina Ahmad, a member of the Education Committee. “This lack of information is very disheartening and I think our voters are just wondering, what is going on?”

The district’s aging infrastructure is one of its most pressing issues as it involves multibillion-dollar maintenance costs associated with repairing buildings dating back to 1878. Students, parents and teachers have expressed concerns about environmental hazards in their schools, such as flaking asbestos, which has forced to close seven school buildings from the beginning of the 2022–2023 school year.

Meanwhile, pressure is mounting on the district to release the comprehensive school building assessment promised last year. Superintendent Tony Watlington warned the City Council in April that it could take an additional two years to finalize the decision.

After this story was published, district spokeswoman Monique Braxton insisted that the district had been “fully transparent” and said the interactive website had been discontinued because it was not owned by the district.

“As we have updated many district websites to be clearer, easier to navigate and customer-friendly, we have moved all of this information to the district website,” Braxton said. “Now access to information should be easier for students, families, employees and community members.”

Braxton said facility reports are still available in PDF format.

PDF reports from the latest round of inspections are available on the district’s legacy website, but only for some of the schools included on the interactive website.

This means thousands of Philadelphia families don’t have access to up-to-date information about building structural problems or whether schools have adequate lighting, ventilation and classroom equipment.

Parents are complaining to Councilor Mark Squilla’s office when they hear rumors about asbestos and lack of heating and air conditioning in schools, Squilla said in a statement.

“They deserve to know about the buildings where their children live every day,” said Squilla, also a member of the Education Committee.

The school’s website, available online until at least May 20, awarded schools ratings based on the quality of their infrastructure and whether buildings adequately supported learning.

The buildings with the lowest rankings on district metrics included the former Our Lady of Pompeii building, which houses the Bayard Taylor Elementary School annex; Isaac Sheppard School Building; and the former William Hunter Building, which formerly housed El Centro De Estudiantes. These buildings were built in 1926 or earlier.

“It’s frustrating that one of the biggest crises we face in Philadelphia doesn’t necessarily have a course of action,” said council member Isaiah Thomas, who chairs the Education Committee. “We have people walking into buildings and facilities without necessarily knowing what condition they are in.”

Delays are hampering plans to repair Philadelphia school buildings

The facilities master plan has been plagued by delays.

After the last district-wide assessment in 2017 found $4.5 billion in deferred maintenance costs, the district initiated a “Comprehensive School Planning Review” in 2019 but put it on hold in 2020 due to the pandemic.

The district, led by then-former Superintendent William Hite, resumed assessments in March 2022. The district released an interactive website the following month.

Watlington took over as superintendent in June 2022. The following November, he told the Board of Education that the district would pause the facilities planning process until the district was closer to completing its five-year strategic plan.

Some teachers, such as Kate Reber from St. William W. Bodine, wanted to use the data to organize families and community partners to pressure the district to fix problems at the school. Reber said there have been water leaks and falling ceiling tiles in Bodine classrooms in the past.

“There was supposed to be a multi-year facilities planning process, and what happened was that the meeting dates and so on just disappeared,” Reber said.

After the school board approved a new strategic plan in June 2023, Watlington told the City Council two months later that the district would complete a facilities master plan by June 2024. However, during an April hearing, Watlington said it could take 18 to 24 additional months. complete it, noting that the district had built a pilot data warehouse for 30 schools but needed time to get the project team up and running.

Facility condition assessments (FCAs), put on hold by the district for 2022, are more comprehensive than asbestos inspections that were the subject of last year’s legal dispute between the City Council and the Board of Education.

FCAs examine major school systems, such as roofing and ventilation, and help the district prioritize what to fix and when, said Jerry Roseman, director of environmental sciences for the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.

“This is the only truly standardized information and data set on the overall health of schools,” Roseman said.

When the district first released its building data in 2022, Reber was surprised to see that Bodine’s facilities scored 60 out of 100, putting it in the “poor” condition category. In a more detailed report, Bodine was included in the category of schools that “should be considered for major renovation.”

“When the planning process happens, we will be happy to talk about it, we will support our school, we will support our families and our students,” Reber said. “I just felt like we started something and didn’t finish it.”

Clarification from June 14, 2024: This article has been updated to add statements from Philadelphia School District spokespeople about how they are releasing facility data and the district’s plans for a new “data warehouse.”

Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site dedicated to changes in education in public schools.