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More problems uncovered after UMS inspection

by Ken Quintanilla

Guam - Teachers and students from Untalan Middle School in Barrigada weren't in class today and for very good reason. After a surprise inspection from the Department of Public Health citing numerous violations, another regulatory agency did its own inspection, reaffirming the closure.

Although it's no secret that UMS has faced poor conditions at its campus, the hits just keep coming. After Public Health issued the school with 50 demerits - 10 more than what is required by public health standards - the Guam Fire Department did their own assessment finding similar violations. Hours before addressing parents and teachers at Untalan Middle School's PTA meeting Thursday night, principal Jim Reyes learned that his school was forced to close after a surprise inspection by Public Health.

Although he is still unsure how it will all play out from when they would move to Tiyan to if and when the school be repaired or reopened, he reiterated to parents last night that all decisions being made are as a result of safety concerns as he has been operating under a sense of urgency. "And I shared with them that, 'Yes, I understand that as a principal that there is going to be disruption in the learning process', but if I had to weigh that against safety of four children on a daily basis, the safety of our children is going to outweigh that," said Reyes.

And just today GFD did its own inspection of the campus, resulting in a notice of hazard finding inoperable fire alarms, insufficient amount of fire extinguishers, inadequate emergency lighting, issues with doors that are part of emergency exists and exposed electrical wiring. GFD spokesperson Lieutenant Ed Artero says if Public Health hadn't shut down the school, today's inspection would have.

Assistant principal Valerie Kaipat says these violations are only a few from the list of problems plaguing the school for some time. "So based on the report, you have leakage again, electrical panels that need to be upgraded because you do know this is a 53-year-old campus, so it's no surprise that a lot of our infrastructure and our panels and so forth around the school need to be updated," she told KUAM News.

Just yesterday, the Guam Education Board approved moving UMS to the Tiyan facility pending a memorandum of agreement between the Governor's Office and the GEB, inclusive of collateral equipment. Although a date hasn't been chosen by the board, UMS had planned on moving on next Saturday.

DOE interim superintendent Taling Taitano says the closure accelerates that move, saying, "I've spoken to the board and suggested that it doesn't make economic sense to spend the $50,000 that our maintenance office has estimated to get Untalan open and instead refocus those efforts on the move." She adds all the schools are dealing with challenges and DOE has upward of $140 million in deferred maintenance that has accumulated over the years.

However, there are $50 million in ARRA trust funding that they are trying to spread to all school districts. Last March, where former DOE management team had anticipated repairs at Untalan to be worked on in the summer of 2011. Kaipat says the citations have been repeated violations and hopes there is some resolution as more than a thousand students sit in the dark.

"It's a different ballgame at this point," she stated, "because we were issued a closure and that's the biggest factor right now because the students are out of school. And we need to do everything we can to decide if we're going to be here with the repairs or get that campus ready for us to move so our kids can get back to school."

And while funding continues to be an issue for renovations, Reyes says there are only six potential makeup days left in the academic calendar and depending on how soon they can reopen the school, should they exceed the six days, finances are going to start kicking in specifically in terms of paying teachers extra because they are tapping into Spring Break.

Public Health last did an inspection of Untalan Middle School in November 2010, where they were only cited with 14 demerits; GFD last did an inspection last August. The gap between inspections was due to limited resources and staffing.

Untalan was placed on priority due to several complaints in the community.

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