Some may recognize those lyrics made popular in the early 80s by singer John Mellencamp, and for school leaders in two states these words really resonate. This past fall, Marshfield Public Schools in Massachusetts and Williamston Community Schools in Michigan had serious accidents in which locker room walls collapsed in their high schools, resulting in one student being injured and another killed.
There was no earthquake or similar event preceding these walls collapsing. In each case, the concrete block walls toppled when a student either leaned up against or climbed onto them. School construction and renovation projects are predicated on low bids and more often than not are up against time constraints for completion. This environment can lead to shoddy work that often is not discovered until long after the project has been completed.
School boards in Kentucky would have limited recourse in situations like these as action against contractors is limited to seven years from substantial completion of improvement to real property ( KRS 413.135).
Booster clubs and similar organizations often seek to build or improve district sports facilities, which also can lead to unsafe conditions and structures. School officials should be reminded that building additions or alterations require Kentucky Department of Education approval in accordance with KRS 162.060. As building inspectors, engineers and facility directors sort through the unfortunate wall failures in Massachusetts and Michigan, Kentucky school administrators must stay vigilant in their construction efforts and evaluate their locker room walls to assure they are structurally sound and safe for students.
— by Myron Thompson, director, KSBA Risk Management Services; and Kentucky School Boards Insurance Trust. For more information, contact your KSBIT loss control representative at 1-800-876-4552.