13 March 2013 — As the Green Building Council of Australia announces it will set up a centre for green schools, a report on American schools has found that, despite the evidence linking respiratory health and air pollutants.  not much has changed in US schools.

A report in 1995 found that 15,000 were circulating air that was unfit to breathe. Eight years later, the US Green Building Council Center for Green Schools’ first “State of our Schools” report says its remains in a dire state.

It found there is a critical need to modernise school facilities to meet current health, safety and educational standards.

Among its findings were that teachers in Washington DC and Chicago were missing an average of four days’ work because of health problems caused by adverse building conditions – poor indoor air quality was the biggest problem.

The report calls on the Governance Accountability Office to conduct an updated survey on the condition of America’s schools and also estimates the cost to both bring schools into good repair and address modernisation needs is US $542 billion over the next 10 years.

Commenting on health and environment, the report says school facilities can affect occupant health of both children and adults.

A review of an array of studies found that air quality, acoustics, levels of thermal comfort and levels of daylight affect the stress levels, health and well-being of occupants in schools.

Public health research has shown that respiratory health and air pollutants are strongly related. The understanding of the direct connection between indoor air quality and Sick Building Syndrome has also become well-established.

Researchers have found that increased ventilation rates are, on average, associated with fewer adverse health effects, with superior work and school performance and with lower rates of absenteeism.

A clear increase in respiratory illness occurs with the very low ventilation rates that have been found in some schools.

Teachers in Washington DC and Chicago reported missing an average of four days annually because of health problems caused by adverse building conditions – with poor indoor air quality cited as the biggest problem.

The report found that ailing school facilities not only a?ected students, sta? and other users of the buildings and grounds, they also a?ected communities and the larger environment.

The environmental e?ects of school facilities are a function of where schools are sited, their size, the sustainability of their design and the e?ciency of their operation and use.

Homebuyers value good quality school facilities, even without knowledge of the research evidence. A 2010 study of the impact of public school facility bond passage on home prices found buyers were willing to pay immediate and sizable increases in home prices.

They found that house prices rose by about six per cent over the two to three years following bond passage and persisted for at least a decade. The researchers did not think these e?ects were a result of changes in the income or race of homeowners.

USGBC Center for Green Schools director Rachel Gutter said about 50 million students attend the 100,000 public elementary and secondary schools in the US.

“Many of these schools barely meet today’s standards, yet it’s been an astonishing 18 years since the last comprehensive study on school conditions was conducted,” she said.

“We can’t continue to ignore a problem just because we don’t understand the extent of it.”

The Center wants the GAO to commission another survey on the condition of America’s schools, with support from 24 organisations, including the 21st Century School Fund, the American Federation of Teachers, the American Lung Association, the National Education Association and the National Parent and Teachers Association.

Key recommendations from the report include:

  • Expanding the Common Core of Data to include school level data on building age, building size and site size
  • Improve the current fiscal reporting of school district facility maintenance and operations data to the National Center for Education Statistics so that utility and maintenance expenditures are collected separately
  • Improve the collection of capital outlay data from school districts to include identification of the source of capital outlay funding and distinctions between capital outlay categories for new construction and for existing facilities
  • Provide financial and technical assistance to states from the US Department of Education to incorporate facility data in their state longitudinal education data systems
  • Mandate a GAO facility condition survey take place every 10 years, with the next one beginning immediately

The full report is here.

Meanwhile, the Green Building Council of Australia will open a Centre for Green Schools, chief executive Romilly Madew told an Australian Financial Review conference this week.

“There is enough evidence of the benefit of green schools,” she said, pointing out that children with asthma perform better in such buildings, the AFR reported.

“The council has rated a lot of schools for the Queensland government, and the ACT has mandated green schools.”