On Monday morning, the bathrooms at Overbook High School were grimy and lacked the basics, including soap and mirrors.
After touring one girls' bathroom, Arlene Ackerman, on her first day as superintendent of the School District of Philadelphia, said that the conditions made her sad.
"This is something we need to attend to right away. We have to treat our young people with much more respect," she declared, before turning to two girls who helped lead the tour.
"I promise you that we're going to work on this, OK?"
Well, she worked on it. This morning, Overbrook Principal Ethelyn Payne Young is scheduled to show the media the school's eight newly refurbished bathrooms.
The work began Tuesday and is being finished up today at a cost of $15,000, according to Felecia Ward, a district spokeswoman.
Soap and toilet-paper dispensers were installed where they were missing, mirrors were mounted on the walls, damaged plumbing fixtures were repaired, exposed wires were re-installed and floors were power-washed and will be repainted after classes end for the summer.
"If you give them something nice, they'll take care of it," Young told Ackerman.
Built in 1924, Overbrook, a 1,700-student school on Lancaster Avenue near 59th Street, is not the only school that needs sprucing up.
An estimated $7 billion in capital repairs is needed across the district's 300-plus schools - from roofs to boilers - while just $1.8 billion has been spent over the last six years, said Fred Farlino, district interim chief operating officer.
Even with the funding shortage, he said, all schools are regularly inspected by the city and have been found to be in "substantial compliance."
"Our buildings are safe, they are clean," Farlino said. "If they are not, the Health Department and Licenses and Inspections would shut us down."
In a report released last month, however, City Controller Alan Butkovitz concluded that city schools are beset by fire and safety hazards. His report was based on visits to 19 schools.
Ackerman has pledged to visit every school to see what it needs. So far this week, she also has visited Fox Chase Academics School, Sayre High School, West Philadelphia High School and the three-school Kensington High complex.
"Given what was found at Overbrook, I think what she's going to find is the same conditions at other schools," Farlino said. "She will find things that need to be done immediately.
"We are equally as concerned about what she is finding, because we feel that in some of these schools we should not be patching them; we should be replacing them. But we just don't have the funding to do that," Farlino added.
The average school building is 65 years old, making Overbrook, at 84 years, one of the oldest.
Despite the school's problems, including exposed wires running along ceilings, poorly lit corridors and a ball field lacking grass, the school has not been neglected, Farlino said.
During the last five years, $11.5 million has been spent on repairing and renovating the school, he noted, though an estimated $40 million in work is still needed.
As for repairing other schools, Farlino said that he expects to meet with Ackerman on Monday to get more immediate-repair orders.
"Basically, what she's asking us to do is accelerate addressing issues in a way that we probably wouldn't have done without her pointing them out." *