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The Right School of Thought for Economic Recovery Projects

(insert author byline)

Now that the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act has been passed, it is time to consider how the funding will be best utilized. Certainly, job creation is a main emphasis, but we must also determine what sorts of project investment will yield the best long-term impact for our communities.

So much is made of getting “shovel ready” projects moving to jump start an economic recovery, but there is also the notion of what “shovel worthy” projects can provide much needed jobs, but also lead to enduring community improvement.

Devoting money to repairing and modernizing our schools should be a priority considering that U.S. students rank 25th in math and 21st in science compared to students in other industrialized nations. Part of that may be attributed to one out of five students nationwide are subjected to spending their school day in cramped trailers due to overcrowding. There is so much more now known about how school and classroom design can affect student learning and comprehension. For example, studies have shown that the use of natural daylighting leads to higher test scores. In addition to lower operating costs and improved test scores, green schools have dramatically improved indoor air quality resulting in enhanced student health and greater attendance rates.

While some schools are in dire need of repairs simply to meet code, other schools have the opportunity to use funding to modernize and make the facility energy-efficient. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) sponsored a report, Greening America’s Schools, which concluded that schools that are designed to be environmentally friendly would save an average of $100,000 each year on utility costs – enough to hire two additional full-time teachers.

And with new environmental approaches to school design, there is the possibility to propose new uses for schools. In the New Orleans Recovery School District, some older schools are being adapted for other resources, including one that is being turned into a learning center for new moms and their babies. Schools can become mixed-use community centers that help improve their immediate surroundings while providing a safe after-school environment for children.

The point is that there is so much more that can be done if we adopt a different mindset for allocating funding for construction projects. And to address the much needed requirement that stimulus dollars create real jobs, it’s important to note that for every one million dollars in construction spending leads to the creation of 28.5 full-time jobs.

Ensuring adequate funding for school renovation and modernization has a triple benefit; Job creation, reduced energy consumption and an improved learning environment for our children who must compete in a global economy.

We call on the American people to work with the design community to identify how their schools can and should be improved and on our nation’s governors, state legislatures and local school districts to use the funding provided to them in the ARRA to modernize design elements of schools.  Help us “walk the walk” and make a real environmental leap forward for our students’ future.

The author is the president / executive director of the (insert chapter) of the American Institute of Architects


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