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Nation's School Buildings In Bad Shape, Report Says

The U.S. Green Building Council's Center for Green Schools released a report earlier this week announcing that the nation's schools are facing $271 billion in deferred maintenance and calling for the federal government and states to collect more information about the state of their school buildings.

"We've spent so much time spinning our wheels over how to fix the who and what of education, we've ignored what needs to be done to fix the where," write Rick Fedrizzi, the president of the USGBC, and Rachel Gutter, the director of its Center for Green Schools, in the report's introduction.

The report cites previous research to outline the dire state of school buildings and the potential impact of those buildings on school climate and student learning. The USGBC analysis estimated how much schools should have spent on building upkeep between 1995 and 2008 and how much they actually spent and found a $271 billion gap. And that's just for upkeep: Modernization would cost $542 billion more, the group estimates.

A deteriorating school building is a very visceral problem for a district and a city. But the USGBC's recommendations mainly have to do with data collection. They suggest, among other things, that the National Center for Education Statistics collect more information on school building ages and on districts' expenditures on facilities; that there be a national survey of facilities every ten years; and that facilities data be included in states' longitudinal education data systems.

Why will data help? In a blog post, the Center for Green Schools' director Rachel Guttter says that collecting this data should hopefully allow states and districts to spot and then address safety, health, education, and environmental concerns. "Better understanding would allow us to not only demonstrate that green schools can bring significant benefits to school and district facilities, but prove that we can invest schools' limited resources more efficiently, effectively, and equitably," she writes.

It would be interesting to find how the state of a building correlates with student performance. Are all of the highest-performing schools in certain districts located in the nicest or greenest buildings? Would that help make the case for more green schools?

All of those findings dovetail with another recent report put out by McGraw-Hill Construction, a publisher on the construction industry, which found that districts are building more green schools and finding financial, health, and learning benefits—but suggested that there's still a need for more data about how those new buildings are actually benefiting students.

Around the the release of the McGraw-Hill report, I went to visit a new modular classroom on display at the National Building Museum in Washington last week. That classroom was an example of the kind of green design the USGBC might promote—and its architects say it's cost-efficient for districts.

The Council of the Great City Schools released a report highlighting building needs in its districts late in 2011. I wrote about how school buildings can impact school climate for our most recent Quality Counts report.

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