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News items come from the U.S. Department of Educations's National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities (NCEF).


Do ‘green’ schools help kids learn?
-- Charlie Boss, The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio: April 21, 2014 -- Researchers know that energy-efficient “green” schools cost less to operate and offer a more-healthful learning environment for students and teachers. But scientists at Battelle want to study whether the environmentally friendly buildings help children learn. Researchers began comparing student test scores, attendance rates and discipline in green schools and traditional schools last year. Preliminary results show a link between green buildings and fewer disciplinary problems. “The idea is to better inform the public debate about sustainable design,” said Ian MacGregor, the project’s lead investigator and a senior research scientist for Battelle Energy & Environment. The study comes as state lawmakers debate whether to allow state agencies, including the Ohio School Facilities Commission, to continue to require new state-funded buildings to meet certain environmental standards. A bill the Senate has passed would ban state use of LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, standards. LEED is used as a worldwide benchmark for environmental building design. The House has yet to hold hearings on the proposal. Advocates of the ban say a recent update to LEED hurts Ohio businesses by discouraging the use of materials produced in the state. The latest version of LEED calls for companies to disclose the chemical ingredients in their building materials. Others, including the U.S. Green Building Council, defend LEED, saying green schools in Ohio use an average of 34 percent less energy and 37 percent less water than traditional buildings. Green schools also increase students’ exposure to daylight and improve indoor air quality, they say. Ohio has more than 130 green schools, and it leads the nation in LEED-certified schools. That’s because all schools built with state help must be LEED-certified.


Their school district dissolved, Buena Vista residents must repay $6.6 million in debt
-- Lindsay Knake, mlive.com

Michigan: April 21, 2014 -- BUENA VISTA TOWNSHIP, MI — Buena Vista Township businesses and residents will repay the defunct school district's debts for at least two years. Although the Saginaw County district has been closed since July 2013, it still has about $6.5 million in debt. The district has a projected deficit of $4.05 million and $2.5 million remaining on a bond voters passed in 2005. All that money must be repaid to the state. Next year, district residents also must decide whether renew a tax on businesses and secondary homes to keep whittling away at the deficit. “It’s going to be a tough sell to renew a millage for a school district that doesn’t exist,” said Chris Frank, Saginaw Intermediate School District assistant director of finance and business operations. If voters reject the millage, he said, the Michigan Treasury could tax all residents in the jurisdiction of the former school district to complete the debt collection. The state is legally required to collect the money the Buena Vista School District borrowed. Buena Vista School District dissolved in July 2013 at the order of the Michigan Legislature after a financial crisis left it unable to pay teachers. The school district closed for two weeks in May 2013 as the state and Saginaw ISD scrambled to find a way to educate Buena Vista students and return enough funding to the district to complete the school year. The state released up to $460,000 in the state per-pupil funding, allowing Buena Vista to provide classes to the about 300 students who remained. Sharply declining enrollment in the years before the district's demise led to the deficit, which was 60 percent of the school system's general fund budget as of June 2013. Each student took $7,776 in state funding when heading to a new school district.


7 W.Va. buildings given architecture awards
-- Caitlin Cook, WVgazette.com

West Virginia: April 20, 2014 -- Seven West Virginia buildings, including a Morgantown elementary school and a Girl Scouts building in Charleston, were honored with awards from the American Institute of Architects at its dinner for the West Virginia Design Awards earlier this month. “The architecture profession always wants to recognize and promote the outstanding work of their peers and highlight the importance of their work of the past year,” said Jonathan Adler with the AIA-WV chapter. The winning projects exhibited sustainability features, extraordinary detailing and designs that mirrored the building’s purpose. Entries were judged by Gina Hilberry who serves as the president of the AIA-St. Louis chapter. Assemblage Architects was the only out-of-state firm to win an award. The firm received an honor award for excellence in architecture for its multi-purpose building at Camp Dawson. The other honor award for excellence in architecture in sustainable design went to Williamson Shriver Architects for its Eastwood Elementary School project in Morgantown. The project consolidated Easton and Woodburn Elementary Schools. The School Building Authority wanted the school to meet LEED silver certification sustainability standards. “There are a lot of demands and expectations there that need to be met at that level,” said Ted Shriver, lead architect for the project. Shriver said there are a number of ways to go about meeting that certification, geared toward energy savings and sustainability. “We looked at the ones that made sense for the location and type of facility that we were designing,” he said. “With sustainability there are some things that cost more than others. And there is only a certain amount of dollars that can be spent on a project so it’s a balancing act to make sure we meet the standards but also make sure it’s the right thing based on costs.”


Elementary schools built in ‘60s getting upgrades
-- Crystal Wylie, The Richmond Register

Virginia: April 20, 2014 -- RICHMOND — Renovation of three Madison County elementary schools built in Richmond during the 1960s will start this summer. The county school board voted Thursday to continue with the second phase of state paperwork required for the projects. With a target completion date of August 2015, renovations and alterations at Daniel Boone, Kit Carson and White Hall elementary schools are estimated to cost almost $12 million. While the buildings will undergo electrical, heating/cooling and plumbing renovations, Clotfelter-Samokar architect Tony Thomas also presented renderings of plans to transform the entrances and bus lanes of the three schools. After viewing the slides, board chair Mona Isaacs pointed out that the brick towers and colored canopies that will be added to the front of each building will make the older schools look very similar to newer schools such as Glenn Marshall Elementary and Farristown Middle.


Schools slash heating bills with stimulus project
-- BLAKE DAVIS, Associated Press, CharlotteObserver.com

Maine: April 20, 2014 -- PORTLAND, Maine Years after federal stimulus dollars funded a Maine Forest Service Project to heat with local wood products, schools and other facilities report they have slashed energy bills in half while supporting jobs in the state's struggling timber industry. However, some project managers say because they had to borrow money to participate, the effort left them with hefty repayment plans that make their net savings far less than they appear. In the heating season ending in 2013, the Forest Service credited its Wood to Energy Grant Program with helping 24 facilities replace upward of 900,000 gallons of heating oil with locally produced wood chips and pellets that provide the same energy output for less than half the price. The Forest Service said the project created or retained more than 335 jobs during the construction phase and supports 13 other forestry jobs through increased usage of wood fuel. Trade groups say those jobs, while temporary, supported the struggling timber industry at the height of the economic recession. The Forest Service paid around half the cost of installing furnaces known as wood boilers that burn wood pellets or chips — which the industry calls "biomass"— for steam or water central heating instead of heating oil or natural gas. The $11.4 million funding for Maine came from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which funneled the money through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service to create jobs and spur the economy. Nationally, $10.9 billion in stimulus funds went to energy incentive programs.


Greening the Nation’s Classrooms with School Gardens
-- JULIE BAWDEN-DAVIS, Parade Magazine

National: April 19, 2014 -- Ask Roxanne Maietta Weinberg what she likes about her school’s garden, and the 5th grader’s emphatic response is: “Everything.” “We go outside and learn about plants and their lifecycle, and I love getting dirty when we weed and clean out the pathways,” says the student at Tustin Memorial Academy Elementary School (TMA) in Tustin, Calif. of the school’s garden that involves all 700 students. “We compost and don’t use pesticides, and it’s so fascinating to me when the plants we grew make delicious and healthy vegetables we can eat.” Growing gardeners who understand good nutrition and the importance of being responsible stewards to the environment was the goal of the TMA garden’s creators, including Roxanne’s mother and garden co-chair, Marci Maietta Weinberg. ”My hope was for the students to learn that what they choose to put in their mouths has a profound effect on the health of themselves and our world,” says Weinberg. The goal of the TMA garden program, which features regular participation by every child in the school, is to reinforce lessons taught in class. Since the TMA garden broke ground in 2008, science and math scores at the school have steadily risen. School gardens are so effective at enhancing education, because they are outdoor, hands-on learning labs, says Mark Hay, founder and director of Coast Live Oak School based in Orange County, California. He instructs the 150 parents involved in the TMA program on teaching students worm composting. “Gardening is a learning laboratory, just like computer lab,” says Hay. “By physically touching the plants and participating in activities such as maintaining worm bins, lessons in science and math come to life.” Tara Fisher-Muñoz and Dianna Gielstra are co-chairs of the Green Team PTA, Wells Branch Elementary, in North Austin, Texas, which features an active school garden. Their goals echo TMA’s. “School gardens help connect kids to nature and teach them to be stewards of the environment,” says Fisher-Muñoz. “Children witness lifecycles from seed to harvest, and in doing so, they learn so much about the world around them. Taste-tests in the garden allow them to experience food fresh and raw, before any dressing touches it, and they learn how such super foods fuel their bodies, offering strength and energy. The garden curriculum also encourages being active.” In the District of Columbia, there are more than 90 active school gardens throughout all eight wards, says Ayan Islam, communications and legislative affairs specialist with the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), which is charged with raising the quality of education for all DC residents.


State construction money available for private schools
-- Jesse Yeatman, Southern Maryland Newspapers Online

Maryland: April 18, 2014 -- The state government again next year will offer $3.5 million to private schools to make repairs to facilities. This year, seven private schools in St. Mary’s County received a total of about $63,000 in public funding during the renovation program’s first year. The state also provides money each year — including $6 million this year — for nonpublic schools to use for textbooks and computer hardware and software. Any school eligible for the textbook money can apply for the construction grant money. The textbook money for nonpublic schools was first put in the state budget as a one-time expenditure, but became an annual expense to the state. The construction money could be headed the same direction. Del. John Bohanan (D-St. Mary’s) said the governor included the nonpublic aging schools money in next year’s budget and, despite a lot of opposition from House of Delegates members, it remained in the budget. “We looked out for it and shepherded it through,” Bohanan said, crediting himself and Del. Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore). The capital budget this year also includes $8.1 million for the aging public schools program, which is distributed based on a formula incorporating the average age of local public schools. The state also funded nearly $350 million for school construction, including new schools and renovation work.


USDA Awards Grants for New School Food Service Equipment to Help Schools Dish Up Healthy Meals
-- Office of Communications, United States Department of Agriculture

National: April 18, 2014 -- WASHINGTON, April 18, 2014 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is awarding $25 million in grants to help schools purchase needed kitchen equipment as they continue to provide school lunches and breakfasts that give children the nutrition they need to learn and grow. Over 90 percent of schools report that they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards, serving meals with more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy, and less sodium and fat. These new grants provide additional support to schools to help them prepare meals that meet those standards. "We know that there is still a significant unmet need for kitchen equipment in schools, and outdated equipment can make it more difficult to prepare healthy meals," said Vilsack. "With these grants, schools will be able to get the tools they need to make the healthy choice the easy choice for America's youngsters." In December, USDA awarded $11 million in grants to the District of Columbia, Guam and 14 states. For the latest round of funding, USDA will ensure all State agencies receive a proportional share of the funding. States will competitively award the funds to school districts to purchase needed equipment, giving priority to high-need schools where 50 percent or more of the enrolled students are eligible for free or reduced price meals. Download the list of funding by state for FY13 and FY14. The Kids' Safe and Healthful Foods Project – a collaboration with The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – recently released a report on school kitchen equipment needs that shows most school districts in the U.S. (88 percent) need at least one additional piece of kitchen equipment, and more than half (55 percent) need infrastructure upgrades to serve healthier meals that meet science-based nutrition standards. The report concluded: Investing in kitchens and cafeterias will help schools better serve the nutritious foods and beverages that students need.


Prince William capital improvements plan includes 20 new schools
-- Amanda Stewart, InsideNova

Virginia: April 17, 2014 -- In the next 10 years, Prince William County school officials plan to build 20 schools, complete an extensive renovation at one school and build additions to 11 schools. The school board recently adopted its capital improvements plan, which includes plans for school construction projects to be built now through fiscal 2024. The plan is based on enrollment projections for the county’s elementary, middle and high schools. As of Sept. 30, 2013, 85,055 students were enrolled in county schools, up 1.8 percent from 2012 enrollment, according to school division enrollment data. School officials are projecting that enrollment will reach 87,108 students next year, and will climb by more than 10,500 students in the next five years. To make room for more students, school officials plan to build new schools and, where possible, to build classroom additions to existing schools, according to the capital improvements plan. In September, two new schools, Haymarket Elementary School and The Nokesville School, a kindergarten through eighth grade school, are slated to open. Additions to River Oaks Elementary and Parkside Middle schools and a renovation at Dumfries Elementary School are also slated to be complete for September 2014.


New Orleans school building repair fund bill clears House committee; $1.8 billion investment underway
-- Danielle Dreilinger, www.nola.com

Louisiana: April 17, 2014 -- A bill to maintain New Orleans' newly built and renovated public school buildings cleared the Louisiana House Education Committee Wednesday with no opposition. The city's two school systems are collaborating on HB 941, which was sponsored by Rep. Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans. The Recovery School District took over most of the public schools from the Orleans Parish School Board after Hurricane Katrina. Leger called it "a school facilities preservation program." The Orleans Parish School Board never had a dedicated funding stream for facility maintenance; when the storm hit, most of the buildings were in a deplorable state. Now the city is in the middle of an unprecedented school rebuilding plan paid for by $1.8 billion, mostly from FEMA. State and local officials pledge that by 2017, every child will be in a new or renovated school. But the FEMA funds don't cover maintenance, leading to concern that the new buildings could crumble over decades just like the old ones did. Leger said it was important to protect them. "Not making that kind of investment in maintenance eventually costs us more dollars in the long run," he said.

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