$6M for repairs; Worcester schools will spend twice as much this year.


Byline: Jacqueline Reis

WORCESTER - The science lab at Worcester East Middle School is bright, airy and has a sewing machine. It also has drawers for potholders and dishcloths, more signs of its past life as a home economics room.

One of the bathrooms downstairs in the school is missing a faucet, a soap dispenser and the top of most of the knobs on the sinks. Bathrooms in at least 22 other schools are in similar need of repair, and over the spring and summer, some will actually start to get them.

The city is spending $6 million in school repairs this year, which is double the usual amount. For the following four years, it will spend $3 million a year, for a total of $18 million. Another $18 million in energy savings projects, including a new roof and windows at Worcester East, is possible but has not been finalized.

The City Council approved the repair money in July, and while many projects will wait until students vacate the buildings this summer, projects like Worcester East's science lab are starting now.

Mayor Joseph C. O'Brien described the repair money as "probably the most important investment we've made this year."

"The quality of that local neighborhood public school impacts so many things in a city. It impacts our property value ... it impacts, I think, students' ability to learn," he said. "We are competing for students and for families with surrounding communities, and if we don't make these kind of investments, we're going to continue to lose middle-class and working-class families."

Howard E. Fain, chairman of Worcester East's Science Department, said he and the school's other science teachers will continue to use the lab in addition to their own classrooms, which have lab benches but they are small, have few electrical outlets and only one sink each.

"Our classrooms just don't have a lot of spread-out space," he said, noting that he uses the lab for microscope work and lessons about motion.

The lab has been a priority for the school, which is part of the district's health science magnet program. A few years ago, the school applied for a grant to refurbish the room but did not get it. Repair and renovation projects usually are not eligible, said Principal Rose M. Dawkins.

"These kids deserve it. They deserve to have something nice," Mrs. Dawkins said. About 90 percent of her students are low-income.

Mrs. Dawkins feels keenly the difference between what...

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