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Articles: Construction

When Hurricane Sandy hit Long Beach, N.Y., a year ago, floodwaters and strong winds destroyed 95 percent of the houses in the small beach community, and damaged all six public schools. Administrators were left to deal with the unprecedented disaster wreaked by the storm, scrambling to relocate students to temporary schools and continue education under extremely adverse conditions.

The district’s most severely damaged school, West Elementary, reopened for the first time this fall.

The renovated KIPP DC Douglass Campus houses more than 1,000 charter students in grades preK-12 in a state-of-the-art facility that retains the building’s original character.

The former District of Columbia public school building was constructed in 1950 as a segregated public school. To accommodate the wide age range of its students, the 147,000-square-foot building has multiple entrances and walking routes for students.

Students at the new Rancho Mirage High School will be learning in a state-of-the-art performing arts center, cutting-edge science labs, and a complete culinary arts kitchen.

McCarthy Building Companies, Inc. completed the $100 million high school in July for Palm Springs USD in southern California. The 332,000-square-foot school, which opens this September, was built on more than 60 acres in the city of Rancho Mirage, and will help alleviate overcrowding in the district’s three other high schools.

Students in the Samuel J. Green Charter School listen to a math lesson. As part of the “portfolio” strategy, dozens of independent local and national organizations operate charter schools in the district.

It’s been a decade since Louisiana established the Recovery School District to take over the lowest-performing schools in the state. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the RSD took over almost all the schools in New Orleans, and in the process restructured the city’s school system on an unprecedented level.

Over the past 10 years, New Orleans schools have gone from being some of the lowest performing in the country to becoming a working laboratory for a bold experiment in restructuring an urban public school system.

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.