The East Los Angeles College campus, one of the oldest in the Los Angeles Community College system, is showing its age: Water main breaks have closed the school about once a year and other problems have forced teachers to move classes to other buildings.
Two weeks ago, the campus was shut down a full day and two night sessions while workers repaired an iron water pipe that is part of the 1940s infrastructure.
Another break, in front of the administration building last Monday, forced officials to close some buildings but not the entire campus because workers were able to use valves to isolate the breaks. But not all the valves work, and there isn't enough money to replace those that don't, said Richard Pothier, building and grounds supervisor.
The school has a maintenance budget of $2.8 million, which is about $400,000 less than the previous year's. The school pays its utility bills from that budget, amounting to about $1 million a year, he said.
"I know we have a responsibility to the academic program, but if the facility cannot be maintained properly, I feel (that) no matter how good the instruction is, the end product is not going to measure up in the long run," Pothier said.
The school must compete with other colleges for state approval for major improvements. For example, a $10,000, five-year maintenance plan has netted new roofing, a new water tank and a tank relining this year. Pothier estimates that repairs to the water system's valves would cost $70,000.
The shrunken budget has taken a chunk out of Pothier's staff, which 11 years ago included five carpenters, a full-time machinist, a mechanic and three clerical workers. Now, he has no carpenters, no mechanic and only a part-time, temporary machinist on duty.
The carpenters and machinist were "absolutely essential" for repairs in roofing, floor tile, furniture and other building maintenance, he said.
Some students say they have grown accustomed to the inconveniences and understand the economic difficulties.
"If (administrators) have to choose which area to put their money, they're going to go for teachers and classes--at least I hope they would," said Kathy Paredes, who is studying political science. "It's just that now they have to choose one over the other."
But Pothier, who has been with the college since 1969, said that the original investment in the buildings will not hold up after years of neglect.