What Schools Cost
The dollars and sense of construction, maintenance, and energy use
There was good news throughout the halls of many rundown, aging New Jersey school buildings on July 18, 2000. On that day, an $8.6 billion school facilities and construction bond package became law. But three years later, some of those good vibrations have faded into frustration as many districts have not started the construction process, while others continue to lag behind.
Being a school maintenance director is a lot like being a pro football referee: You only get noticed when you do something wrong. While teachers have many opportunities to receive praise, school maintenance workers often toil in anonymity. But the best maintenance—the kind that prevents problems from ever happening—actually can save school districts money and minimize disruptions in the education process. Repeat this facilities mantra: Fix now or pay later.
Cutting Energy Costs
It’s difficult to get kids to turn out the lights when they leave a room, not to mention the teachers, custodial staff, and administrators. So, when you consider the tens of thousands of dollars districts spend each month on energy-related costs, even minimal waste amounts to more than mere chump change. But the key is buy-in: It’s getting everyone to agree that saving energy is good for everyone. And the buy-in starts with the students.
Moving to Modular
Portable classrooms, once considered temporary, have become as much a part of U.S. schools as textbooks and kick ball. Some educators still balk at trailers, but the overall quality of modular classrooms has increased greatly in the past decade. Don’t think “trailer”—think fast, flexible, and economical.
What Went Wrong
Even though educators quickly discovered that a communal setting is not conducive to student learning, districts that built open classroom schools are stuck with an architectural pink elephant. As facilities across the nation age, districts are faced with not just one, but a small herd of pink elephants. Flat roofs, glass-block windows, multiple pathways in and out of buildings: All of these things drain budgets, present safety issues, and divert funds from where they should be spent—on the education of students.