Cleveland struggles with $400 million in building repairs; Jackson says help …
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Cleveland's 192 municipal buildings require $400 million in repairs, and the city has neither the money nor the staff to handle the work.
In the 27 fire stations and the fire training academy alone, the backlog totals $31 million, according to a city study. Firefighters union President Frank Szabo said the union fields complaints about clogged sanitary sewers and broken heating and cooling systems.
Many of the stations are more than 50 years old, and their mechanical systems are the originals, Szabo said. He said the city takes it time in responding, and then often performs patch jobs. Firefighters bring in space heaters or wall air-conditioners to make conditions in their dormitories more bearable.
"It just goes into the warp zone," Szabo said. "I don't want to say we're more important, but certain buildings are 24/7/365. Fire stations are among them."
Councilman Kevin Conwell, who represents part of the Glenville neighborhood, said the boiler in the Glenville Recreation Center regularly breaks down, leaving the air too cold for senior citizens to use the swimming pool. Even when the boiler is fired up, the elevator the seniors take to the pool level is usually out of order.
Wood to refurbish a rotting sauna was delivered last November, Conwell said. But work has yet to begin.
"It's in horrible condition," Conwell said of the recreation center. "It affects my residents' quality of life."
The study of repair needs was conducted in 2008, but officials say the $400 million estimate is still valid. Mayor Frank Jackson said Friday that the problems result from years of deferred maintenance. The mayor said the city has begun to close some buildings and upgrade those that remain, but he acknowledges the process is not moving fast enough.
Jackson said he intends to ask City Council's permission to issue at least $50 million in bonds and come up with a five-year plan that would largely target police stations, firehouses and recreation centers.
He intends to pay off the debt with a portion of annual fees Cleveland will receive from Ohio's four new casinos but said he has to wait until the casinos begin opening this year and the yearly revenue becomes clearer. The state has said the city's take could reach $29 million a year; the city is forecasting $20 million.
"The problem with facilities is something that has been going on for decades," said Jackson, who hopes to issue bonds as soon as next year. "The way we've been doing it is piecemeal. We're putting together a systematic approach."
Jackson said contractors will get buildings in good enough shape so that the city's small corps of tradesmen can stay on top of deterioration. At a City Council hearing on Wednesday, Public Works Director Michael Cox said the city has only six plumbers, four electricians and two painters.
The Public Safety Committee hearing was called, in part, to examine conditions in police and fire stations. Cox said the tradesmen cannot keep up with the workload.
"We respond to safety and health issues first," Cox said. "We do not have preventive-maintenance staff on hand."
City Architect Robert Vilkas reported progress on some building projects.
He said officials are negotiating with the city schools for land to replace an East 131st Street fire station, long acknowledged to be the department's worst. A 2010 media tour of the 91-year-old building showed a truck bay floor near collapse, water leaking into a garbage can in the dormitory and a basement with exposed wires, rusting pipes and standing water.
The city spent nearly $150,000 last year to replace the roofs on three fire stations. And when the weather breaks, a contractor will begin replacing the 2nd District police station roof for $430,865.
The R.W. Clark Co. has received a contract for more than $1 million in shower, kitchen and door work at seven fire stations and a fire training academy. And $308,439 in federal stimulus money will pay to install energy-efficient infrared heating systems in truck bays at 14 fire stations.
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