Reading Massachusetts Education


Age of a school building isn't the problem... poor maintenance is.

Think in terms of your own home. If your toilets or ceilings or plumbing needed repair, if your home needed paint, some fixtures replaced or an electrical upgrade, would you tear down your home and build another? Would you take out a 30 year loan to pay for your computer? Most people would say "no." Most people would prioritize and create a budget to address their problems and needs.

Yet, with public school projects, and particularly with the Reading Memorial High School (New High School) project, Reading is proposing to destroy a perfectly good, structurally sound facility because it was poorly maintained by Harutunian administration. RMHS current problems are the result of administrative decisions to not address and fix maintenance problems as they occurred.

Have our local officials become so out of touch with reality that they no longer invest in what we need but seek to endanger the Town's fiscal stability by pursuing what State agencies, architectural firms and school officials tell us we should want? Even worse, school lobby groups tell us to "Do it for the children." Informed citizens know better - this has always had less to with the welfare of children and more to do with the business of school construction. For Reading, it is more important to have teachers in the classrooms than empty buildings we can't afford to staff and (in the case of the new elementary school) space we don't even need because enrollment numbers are dropping.

Reading is being tricked into believing that State money is not "our" money. If we commit to borrowing beyond our needs, we will pay dearly while we wait over 20 years for partial State reimbursements.

Where is the common sense?

Reading Facilities Directors - The Revolving Door

For the past 6+ years (former Superintendent of Schools Harry Harutunian arrived in 1995), oversight of school and town building has been in a state of chaos. Reading has had 5 different Facilities Directors since 1995.

Longtime Director Michael Lombardo resigned in 1996, followed by John "Skip" Bandini, who served nine months (Jan. 1997- Sept. 12, 1997). Jeff Griffin lasted 15 months (Dec.1997 - Mar. 1999) and was followed by Richard Barrett for eighteen months (August 1999 – Feb. 2001). Custodian Domenic “Dom” Cacciapuoti served briefly in 1996, 1997 and 1999 (between directors) and has been the present Interim Director since February 2001. During the approximate 30 years Mr. Cacciapuoti has been employed by Reading, he has worked with 6 Maintenance Directors, four of them since 1996.

Why has there been such a turnover of so many qualified maintenance directors? Was there something about the ways in which the Harutunian administration operated that they did not like or were not able to tolerate? Also, why did former Interim Director Cacciapuoti remain a highly paid “Interim” Director if he had the credentials to fill the position? If he lacked the necessary engineering training and oversight abilities, why did Superintendent Harutunian not fill the position with someone more qualified over these past 2 years?

Is this because, in Cacciapuoti, Harutunian had finally found a person to fill the maintenance director position who would "play ball?"

Contracting Out

Work previously done by maintenance workers and custodians was contracted out, usually "by the job." As of Jan 1, 2003, one maintenance person has retired and another quit, leaving just one maintenance "jack-of-all-trades" person systemwide. No electrician or plumber.

Invensys has a contract to regulate heating systems in all the schools, with an individual on site daily. The Town is likely paying a hefty fee for this service when a qualfied in-house person could be hired instead. Simplex has the fire detection and sprinkler system maintenance contract. Another company has the security contract. Intercoms are maintained by yet another company. If windows are broken, a glass company responds.

Regular maintenance was also supposed to be done on the boilers, testing them and adding anti-rust solutions. Much of this used to be done by custodians but could no longer be done at Harutunian-era staffing levels. Preventive maintenance was simply not a priority of the Harutunian administration.

Maintenance - The Reading Education "Slush Fund"

Maintenance allotments have been raided for many purposes. Administrators seem confident that Reading taxpayers and the state will bail Reading out when buildings have been neglected to the point where major renovations or replacement are necessary--a school expense funded outside the regular School Budget.

The July 12, 1996 Peat Marwick audit of FY 1995 Town and School Finances states "The Superintendent of Schools has assured the School Building Maintenance Department that building maintenance monies will be used only for the purpose of maintaining the facilities." Two months later, School Committee voted to move $7,000 from the building maintenance account to the educational assistant account (Hechenbleikner memo 07/12/96, page 2, SC minutes 09/30/96, page 3).

In October 1996, Finance Committee Chairman Carol Grimm toured the high school and detailed what she called almost "complete absence of routine maintenance." She challenged the quality and quantity of everyday maintenance that occurred in the building. Other Finance Committee members charged that the school department had been using funds allocated for building repairs for other uses. Nate White pointed out that state law allowing school committee to move funds around negatively effects the maintenance of school buildings (Chronicle 10/11/96).

Town Consolidates Maintenance

In the late 1990s, the Town consolidated the maintenance of all Town buildings under the direction of the School Department. "It is going to be less expensive to run a tight building maintenance program, than having two mirror operations" (Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner, Advocate 09/17/98). Similar arrangements in other area towns are not typically administered by the schools, however (Advocate 09/10/98). Some townspeople have expressed concern about this consolidation (Williams 08/01/98 memo).

The raiding of maintenance funds continued. In January 1999, School Committee took $18,500 from maintenance to fund Flansburgh & Associates's geotechnical survey and topographical survey at the Dividence Road elementary school site. Without the "borings" part of the survey, designs allegedly would have to be based on inadequate information, according to Flansburgh Project Manager Sid Bowen (Chronicle 01/08/99 - yet, in 2003, only 2 borings were considered an acceptable number of borings for the high school schematic designs. How can that be??).

The Town Manager clarified that Town building maintenence funds must be spent only on building maintenance (01/21/99 Harutunian, 01/20/99 Hechenbleikner memo). Yet, who will hold school administrators accountable when they raid and misuse maintenance funds? In 2003, accountability of appropriated maintenance funds continues to be a major problem.

KPMG Peat Marwick Report:

The Peat Marwick Review of Reading Public Schools Custodial and Maintenance Operations was completed in March 1998. They concluded that custodial and maintenance functions were understaffed based upon square footage and that the workload needed to be more evenly distributed (PMM page 4). Custodial workloads for FY 1997-98 varied significantly among the schools, ranging from 18,000 sq. ft per custodian at the Joshua Eaton Elementary School to 44,551 sq. ft. per custodian at the Reading Memorial High School (page 23). A suggestion was to subcontract cleaning services (Chronicle 12/12/00). One unanswered question is how custodian coverage in Reading compares with that in equivalent surrounding communities.

Maintenance Schedules

In 1997, when asked about the routine maintenance schedules for Reading's seven schools, the Superintendent Harutunian wrote that "these maintenance schedules do not exist," in spite of the fact that School Building Assistance requires the filing of Maintenance plans, including routine maintenance, for every proposed renovation. The Parker Middle School, Birch Meadow Elementary and Joshua Eaton Elementary had been newly renovated in 1997. Maintenance schedules could include mechanical items that regularly need to be done--oiling motors, changing belts, testing exit lights, labor intensive time-consuming tasks. There might be a schedule with certain annual or six month checks.

While it is widely known that the state agency SBA does not often check what has actually been filed, local officials must be vigilant to ensure preventive maintenance is in place and that their new schools are not neglected, as previous schools have been. While RMHS is the most blatant example of the Harutunian administration's maintenance failures, the maintenance attention Parker Middle School was promised when it opened has also not occurred.

Maintenance Appropriations:

If money has been appropriated to maintain Reading Schools, where has it gone and how has it actually been spent? During brief periods in which Jeff Griffin and John Bandini were Facility Directors in Reading, some repair information was released (08/01/97 Summer Update work schedules articles). Yet, where is a regular report of work completed to assure the public that appropriations are being properly expended? The public has seen very little of this type of information from the Harutunian administration.

From looking at a variety of sources, it appears as though money has been appropriated for the schools and, particularly, for the high school. Whether or not these funds were spent for their intended purposes is more difficult to determine. On April 14, 1997, Town Meeting appropriated $1.8 million specifically to address RMHS mechanical, structural, safety and accreditation issues (SC minutes 05/01/97, page 2, Memo 03/06/97). Among the funds appropriated for work were: $100,000 for concrete column repair, $200,000 for upgrading science labs, $600,000 for Asbestos Abatement/HVAC upgrades and $100,000 for a Science Wing roof. On Mar. 9, 1998, Town Meeting appropriated an additional $600,000 for RMHS boiler & burner replacement and asbestos removal (Harutunian / Klepeis memo 10/17/97).

Since 1995, new roofing has been installed in several areas, including the original 1953 building (
1997 Quicktime video clip). In 1998, approximately $65,000 was spent on painting at RMHS (S.L. Moutsoulas Painting). New boilers were installed in 1995 and 1998 along with fifty-one (51) unit ventilators in the 1953 section of the facility. By August 26, 1998, Siebe Environmental Controls (now Invensys, 08/26/98 Siebe Memo) had completed the $271,080 installation of Network 8000, a computerized Energy Management system to address heat fluctuation complaints and to reduce oil consumption (TM Warrant, Article 7, 03/09/98, Harutunian .mp3 audio 01/08/03). Local Area Network (LAN) computer wiring throughout RMHS was completed in Oct. 1998 (Marion memo, 08/27/98). Though $50,000 was appropriated for the intercom system, only $13,079 was spent. In 1999, Walkie-Talkies (School Committee minutes 09/28/99, page 5) were purchased for approximately $11,000 to enhance communication within the high school, particularly in case of emergencies. Also, $50,000 was appropriated for making auditorium, special ed and field house restroom facilities American Disabilities Act (ADA) accessible (03/06/97 RMHS $1.8 million). For September 1999, almost all the lockers used by students had been painted inside and out, with the infamous "orange locker area completely closed off from use." A new computer lab was added along with new computers in classrooms and increased internet capabilities (Chronicle 09/99). In 2000, the field house interior was painted, lockers were repaired and purchased, and a new track record board given in memory of Jay Jellison through donations.

Unlike the annual School Budget for which Town Meeting votes only the total, these $1.8 million in appropriations were designated for a specific purpose. Misuse of this funding for purposes other than Town Meeting had intended would constitute a misappropriation of funds and be considered an illegal activity.


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Chronicle 08/20/97, retired Reading custodian remembers preventive maintenance when Larry Moore and Bill Penderghast were in charge. "Both Larry and Bill had detailed Maintenance schedules for each school." "Larry and Bill treated the schools like they would their own homes."

"School Committee lets the building go until things get so bad that they decide to have a feasibility study (or two) to "prove" it would be cheaper to sell a school or tear it down than fix it up."



1997 - School maintenance schedules "do not exist" [.pdf download, 21.5 KB] - Maintenance schedules for the seven schools in Reading do not exist??


1997 Town Meeting Appropriation of $1.8 million to address RMHS mechanical, structural, safety and accreditation issues [.pdf, 368 KB]. Where did it go?


1998 - 1999 RMHS Capital Projects Expenditures From $1.8 Million Appropriated Funds [.pdf, 455 KB] - Some details as to where money meant for the maintenance / repair of Reading Memorial High School was actually spent.


Siebe / Invensys 1998 Summer Work - Installation of Network 8000 Energy Management Systems in Joshua Eaton, Birch Meadow and RMHS.


Rewarding neglect? - Stoneham Sun, 05/10/99 - School systems have to pay for maintenance out of their budgets but can harvest millions from the State for new construction. SBA reimbursements are "a pork-fest."


Boston Globe Classified Ad, 04/18/99 - Reading seeks a new Director of Facilities. Responisible for all town and school buildings in Reading. Reports directly to the Superintendent. [.pdf 61 KB]


Massachusetts Department of Public Health - February, 2000 RMHS Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) Report [.pdf, 1.55 MB] - This State report on Reading Memorial High School reveals the true causes of many of the building's alleged "problems." This report, from a November 1999 site visit, includes some very simple and cost-effective solutions and, unfortunately, was suppressed by the Harutunian administration. Details from the report were also omitted from Flansburgh Associates' RMHS Feasibility Study.

Accompanying DPH officials on their November 17 assessment visit were Jane Fiore (Reading Health Department), Frank Orlando, RMHS Principal, Herbert Marden, RMHS custodian and Richard Barrett, Reading Schools Facilities Manager.

After investing over $2 million in 1998 in heating system upgrades and a new roof at RMHS (built in 1953 with 1970s addition), Reading taxpayers now are throwing it all away (with the State's blessing). Reading is demolishing the structurally sound high school to fix poor housekeeping issues and heat fluxuations in 3 classrooms. Why IS RMHS going to be torn down and replaced with a new $58+ million structure? Who benefits?

Did the Reading Building Committee and the "Building Pride" folks know about this IAQ report when they misrepresented conditions at the high school and campaigned to tear it down and replace it?

Note (at the end of the DPH report) the scathing 11/24/99 DPH letter to Reading Assistant Fire Chief Jack Mooney regarding hazardous chemical storage at RMHS. Was this situation ever corrected? Are the "volatile organic compounds" still improperly stored there?

If your house is a dirty mess, don't clean it or put things away; tear it down!! It's the Reading way!


Chronicle 01/21/03, RMHS alarm failure tied to lack of maintenance. Lack of sprinklers not a building code violation.


Custodial/Maintenance, Town Buildings and School Buildings, Recommended Budget 2003-2004, January 2003 - Maintenance of Town and School buildings is overseen by the Reading School Department (includes 1/02/03 draft Anticipated Costs for FY04 Budget).


S.J. Services' cleaning contract. In spite of regular complaints to Building Maintenance regarding the deplorable work of the current cleaning service contracted for Town Buildings, another three year contract for S.J. Services, Inc. was recommended to School Committee and voted June 17, 2003 (Harutunian 06/23/03 memo including municipal custodial services request / municipal complaint letter). Nowhere in the recommendation does Harutunian comment on the quality of the company's past services (06/13/03 Harutunian custodial services bids and recommendation).

Police Chief Silva, Elderly Services Administrator Pamela Brown and Library Director Kimberly Lynn, under the impression that the contract would end June 30, 2003, wrote a June 19, 2003 letter to Town Manager Hechenbleikner (copied the Head of Building Mainenance, Board of Selectmen, Superintendent of Schools and Finance Committee Chair) detailing their concerns with S.J. Services past performance and suggesting that an arrangement using inhouse custodians would be a preferable alternative. Oversight of maintenance of Town Buildings was given to the School Department in 1998.

The three year contract with J.S. Services, Inc. was signed by Harutunian June 26, 2003 (ignoring the June 19, 2003 municipal complaint letter) and forwarded to the cleaning company which has not, as of July 14, 2003, returned it signed to the Town (apparently J.S. Services, Inc. have been working without a contract).

Would a reasonable school superintendent, concerned about the welfare of the community he was leaving (on June 30th) and fully aware of the history of this cleaning company, still sign a contract on June 26, 2003?

S.J. services' contract is representative of many of Harutunian's questionable actions over the years, recommendations that defy logic when considering the best long-term interests of the community.


Read about what members of the Harutunian administration were supposed to have done in order to properly maintain Reading Memorial High School: