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Articles: Construction

Superintendent Maureen Sabolinski went door to door to drum up voter support for a new high school in the Franklin (Mass.) Public Schools. Sabolinski visited local coffee shops to tell community members they also would get to use the new high school gym, walking track, theater and library.

It was a daunting project, seemingly impossible to fund with traditional municipal bonds, says Yonkers (N.Y.) Public Schools Superintendent Bernard Pierorazio.

In 2010, a building condition study showed that his district needed $480 million for capital improvements to existing school buildings, while new schools needed to be built given an expected enrollment increase of 3,000 by 2020, for a total of $1.2 billion.

Some schools districts are using enrollment losses and building closures as an opportunity to improve student achievement by shifting kids to better schools.

Record lows in student enrollment and staggering budget cuts have forced some of the nation’s largest districts to close schools, a disruption that has often interfered with classroom instruction.

“Many big urban districts have declining enrollment, as there is exodus to the suburbs and charter schools,” says Ron Zimmer, associate professor of public policy and education at Vanderbilt University, an expert on these trends.

Growing numbers of school districts are entering into public-private partnerships (P3s) to accomplish energy efficiency improvements that will result in cost savings and improved environmental stewardship.

For instance, last year, the Sonoma County Water Agency (SCWA) in California launched its Efficiency Financing Program to fund energy efficiency and water retrofits on local schools. Fifty-four school campuses, two local governments and a nonprofit hospital are currently participating in the program, which is backed by contractually guaranteed cost savings.

Though the Santa Monica-Malibu USD in California does not have a turf field, members of the Malibu Community Alliance filed a lawsuit against the district and city in July 2012 to stop the district from installing permanent 70-foot-tall lights on the football field.

Gone are the days of squishy grass and pothole-laden school fields: artificial turf fields are becoming an increasingly popular option for districts nationwide for their ease of use and cost-effective maintenance.

It’s a common situation: A school district in desperate need of additions or renovations and technology upgrades borrows money from investors, to be paid back with interest. But for the Poway Unified School District in San Diego County, Calif., there is a twist: They don’t need to make any payments on the $105 million they borrowed in 2011 until 2033, so the district’s debt will continue to grow as interest on the loan amasses. In the end, taxpayers will be charged $877 million in interest alone.

Reed Intermediate School, Newtown (Conn.) Public SchoolsDistricts looking to balance cost, sustainability and their carbon footprint when building a new school should consider wood, urges reThink Wood, a national coalition of North America’s forestry and wood industries. Formed in 2011, the coalition promotes wood as a low-carbon alternative to steel, masonry and concrete.

Facing the twin specter of state and local budget cuts, Falcon School District 49 in Peyton, Colo., has done “some pretty radical things” with technology that have enabled the district to survive without drastic staff cuts, according to Kim McClelland, assistant superintendent and innovation leader for one of various regions in the district. The moves even allowed teachers to receive a 2 percent raise for the 2012-2013 school year.

green schools, solatube

MUSE School CA, a non-profit k8 school in Malibu, Calif., partnered with Solatube International last year to provide natural daylight in school classrooms, increase the performance of students and teachers and enrich the sustainable design. Solatube Daylighting Systems harvest daylight on the rooftop and allocate light evenly into a room with a highly reflective tube and diffuser at the ceiling.

Springfield (Pa.) Literacy Center, sustainable schools

Imagine a school with classrooms on only one side of the building, windows that look out onto picturesque landscape, a path outside that features the ABCs, and a forest area with a tree house where a classroom of kids can read. The Springfield Literacy Center is that place, and 600 kindergartners and first-graders in the Springfield (Pa.) School District gather for school there every day.

Don’t Forget Education

Former West Va. Gov. Gaston Caperton, president of the College Board, has urged the presidential candidates to not forget about education policies in the 2012 election. A College Board poll says education is behind the economy and jobs in top issues.

Greenville Schools Create Renewable Energy

In late 2010, Greenville Public Schools, a rural district in Michigan, ranked in the 95th percentile nationally for sustainable schools. The district has since applied for LEED certification, the U.S. Green Building Council’s rating system, following completion of a green energy project with Johnson Controls.

The federal government last formally assessed the state of the nation’s schools in the 1999 report “Condition of America’s Public Schools,” which estimated that it would take $127 billion to bring our nation’s schools to “good condition.” The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) issued its own report card the same year. In “The Report Card for America’s Infrastructure,” the ASCE gave schools a D grade and estimated an even greater dollar amount ($322 billion) was needed over five years to bring schools into good condition.

A fire caused by spontaneous combustion destroyed South Bay Elementary School in West Babylon (N.Y.) on Feb. 18, 2010.

On Feb. 18, 2010, a spontaneous combustion occurred at South Bay Elementary School in the West Babylon (N.Y.) Union Free School District while the gym floor was being refinished on the final day of the school’s winter vacation. Although no one was injured, the entire school was set aflame and left nothing for the 300 students expected to return the following day. Though considered to be the worst school fire in the greater New York region, South Bay was rebuilt in less than two years, opening this past fall, and students only missed one day of school due to the fire.

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