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The impact of technology has been undeniable in recent years — so much so, schools have been trying to keep up in an effort to make students more computer literate and ready to face new technological developments.
But in this time of integrating technology in schools, have administrators ignored fundamental needs, such as supplying adequate heating, cooling, and ventilation to the classroom?
Heery International, a leading K-12 program management and architectural firm, conducted its Millennium School 2000 survey. The project included two statewide surveys in Oregon and Massachusetts, as well as surveys in nine cities across the United States. Altogether, 1,650 teachers and principals were polled.
The purpose was to find out how school facilities affect teacher retention and the ability of students to learn. Several aspects were covered, including school safety, building design, and technology.
The findings are both surprising and yet expected. In all of the cities surveyed, educators ranked basic systems such as heating and air conditioning, electrical outlets, and proper lighting as the most important needs. Technology, on the other hand, ranked somewhere lower.
What Teachers Are SayingThis is the second such survey that Heery has conducted; the first was in 1998. The purpose was not only to find out how school environments affect learning, but to relate these findings to the contractors and developers Heery represents.
Through focus groups and phone surveys, Heery probed educators on how their school building affects student safety, learning ability, and achievement. Also, the survey looked to find what aspects of school environment have the greatest impact on students.
Of the nine cities surveyed, all placed the importance of adequate hvac above technology in the classroom. Proper lighting and a sufficient number of electrical outlets also ranked above technology. As one teacher said, “What good is technology if you can’t plug it in?”
While so many teachers stressing the importance of such basic needs as hvac, lighting, and proper electricity, fewer than one-fourth of the educators gave their schools an “A” when it comes to the building.
Jay Shapiro, Heery’s New York-New Jersey representative for planning and marketing, has seen first hand why teachers are disappointed with their school buildings. “I have always worked around New York and New Jersey. One thing that impacts hvac is infrastructure. Buildings today are poorly ventilated and poorly adopted for hvac. We are in a northern climate, but June can be muggy. [There are] kids in city schools who are not getting fresh air.”
The bottom line, according to Shapiro, is that “Technology is wonderful, but fresh air is fundamental.”
This is backed up in the Heery survey; 75% of the educators in New York City schools ranked air conditioning and heating as having a great impact on students. As for technology, only 51% said it had a great impact.
Shapiro says that some of the New York schools are between 60 and 80 years old. “There are some pockets [of the city] with a great, old schools, like little museums. Most we see have been totally under-funded. We still see coal-fired heaters in New York. You would think they’d be replacing this.”
Why Substandard Hvac?There are several reasons why schools have suffered when it comes to hvac, but the main reason has been money.
Martha Pacini, Heery media representative, said that she found from the study that a school building that is considered new is one that was built 30 years ago. She explains that these schools were built very tightly and did not make indoor air conditioning a priority. With this in mind, the older a building is, the harder it is to install new and more adequate units.
But even though these buildings are a bit difficult to update, the reality is that many schools put off doing so. “There is a huge deferred maintenance backlog,” Pacini said. She also says that when it comes to budget issues, “The first thing that gets cut is maintenance.”
Several other statistics back up what Heery has found. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 76% of schools have indicated that they are in need of money to fund repairs and renovations. This is equal to approximately $127 billion, or $2.2 million per school.
This same study also found that 29% of public schools reported less-than-adequate heating and ventilation, 22% reported less-than-adequate electrical power, and 17% reported less-than-adequate electrical lighting.
Deferred MaintenanceDeborah P. Moore, director of operations for the Council of Educational Facility Planners International, also says that deferred maintenance has been one of the main culprits. “The reality is, unless it is life safety, it isn’t at the top of the list,” she said. However, “When you defer it, you are going to pay the piper.”
Moore also says that many schools will overlook maintenance, especially if they have new systems. But by deferring the maintenance, schools can end up paying twice as much when the equipment begins to have problems.
As for Heery’s findings from teachers, that the physical environment has effects on students and their academic achievement, Moore says there are studies to back this up as well.
Maureen Edwards conducted a study on the condition of school buildings in Washington, DC, and the impact it has on test scores. According to the study, “Students in school buildings that were in poor condition scored 6% below students that were in schools in fair condition, and 11% below students in schools that were in excellent condition.”
So, what is the solution to fix schools in disrepair?
First, Moore believes it is going to take more federal funding. She says that federal money has gone to repair and build highway systems, and the same needs to happen with the infrastructure of schools.
She also says that it is going to take community involvement and partnership. If a school can partner with the local library, it means more “bang for their buck.”
It is also going to take community members coming into the schools to see exactly what the conditions are. If this happens, it means that the needs of the school are no longer out of sight and out of mind.
Sidebar: ASHRAE Proposes VentilationATLANTA, GA — The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) announces the requirements for the location of outdoor air intakes in a proposed addendum to Standard 62-1999, “Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air Quality.”
Minimum separation distance requirements between common outdoor contaminant sources (such as exhaust vents and loading docks) and outdoor air intakes are specified in addendum aa, according to Andrew Persily, committee chair. It also sets requirements intended to limit rain intrusion and entrainment and for bird screening.
Another proposed addendum, r, addresses outdoor air quality assessment and air cleaning requirements. The addendum requires outdoor air quality assessment and requires particle filtration when the outdoor particle concentration is high. It does not require air cleaning for other gaseous contaminants, Persily said.
Addendum z addresses air-cleaning requirements for the ozone. The current standard recommends outdoor air cleaning for contaminants of concern, but does not require cleaning for outdoor contaminants including ozone, according to Persily.
The addenda are now open for public review, with the review scheduled to end on Jan. 30, 2001. Drafts of ASHRAE 62-1999 addenda may be obtained during the review period at www.ashrae.org/STANDARDS/pubrevdft.htm.