Creating Livable Communities Through Smart School Siting


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Session 38 at Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike Conference in Chattanooga; describes policy and practices that encourage walkable, community-centered schools developing through Helping Johnny Walk to School project

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  • Thanks. As Brian said, I’m Renee Kuhlman, and I manage special projects for the Center for State and Local Policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.   This morning, I’d like to talk about the importance of where communities are choosing to “site” or locate their schools and why this decision is important to BOTH preservationists and those encouraging more active transportation choices.   To get us started, I will first: Explain why preservationists are interested in this issue; talk about some of the barriers we’ve identified to community-centered schools; and describe efforts undertaken—by folks such as yourselves—to address these problems ; and finally share some recommendations we’ve developed through a program the National Trust is offering through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and with funding from the Building Educational Success Together collaborative.
  • First, I’d like to define a term that we use often in school siting. When we’re talking about community-centered schools like the one pictured here, we’re generally talking about a school that: … is located near the residents it serves which allows students the option of biking and walking to school … is relatively small, so that it fits well within the neighborhood … acts as a community anchor … uses existing buildings, roads, sewers and avoids extending infrastructure wherever possible … whose location is determined through a broad community planning process , in consultation with city and other relevant jurisdictions … shares facilities (such as auditoriums, sports facilities, libraries, computer labs, etc.)   … is broadly supported by the community because its facilities are used by residents of all ages We feel that the term “community-centered schools” describes both the location and the position we’d like to see schools take in their community.   You should be aware that the term “neighborhood schools” (which we used originally) is a laden term … some feel that if you’re advocating for local schools, you’re then advocating for re-segregation of schools. Others don’t want to feel that the local, under-performing school in their neighborhood is their only choice. Communities in several parts of the country are struggling with this issue – trying to provide walkable schools within neighborhoods while accommodating school choice and ensuring adequate school facilities for all students.
  • In addition to achieving their educational objectives of providing quality education for all students, school facilities can also help communities meet other goals. From a preservationist’s perspective, schools—more than any other public institution—are critical to the well-being and sustainability of a neighborhood. When the community-centered school is demolished or abandoned, the neighborhood loses a stabilizing force or “anchor” which impacts both property values, public and private investment in the community, and even the spirit of the local residents. From an environmental perspective, if we’re teaching kids to recycle plastic, shouldn’t we also teach them to retrofit our schools which makes a much bigger impact on our landfills? Also, while people typically think of the large amount of carbon emissions that come from the operation of buildings, did you know that the construction process itself produces lots of carbon? For example, researchers have found it takes 35-50 years for a new, energy-efficient home to recover the carbon expended in its construction.  
  • From a health perspective, schools located within neighborhoods provide opportunities for students to get in the recommended 60 minutes a day of physical activity – by (e.g., walking and biking to school) and/or playing on the adjacent playgrounds and/or ballfields. The facilities are also often where local adults can exercise. Last year, the American Academy of Pediatrics acknowledged this relationship between health and school siting when they wrote “f actors such as school location have played a significant role in the decreased rates of walking to school, and changes in policy may help to increase the number of children who are able to walk to school.”
  • Finally - for those concerned about climate change, locating schools near residents can help communities reduce the number of cars on the road, thereby reducing the amount of greenhouse gasses that’s released into the air.   Research, like this 2003 EPA, has found that: The built environment influences travel choices. Students traveling through pedestrian-friendly environments are more likely to walk or bike. Proximity of the school to its students matters. Students with shorter walk and bike times to school are more likely to walk or bike. Because of these travel behavior differences, school location has an impact on air emissions . Centrally located schools that can be reached by walking and bicycling result in reduced air emissions from driving.   This is why New Hampshire including school siting recommendations in it’s State Climate Action Plan last year.
  • Like preservationists, many of those involved in walkability programs believe that keeping these walkable, neighborhood schools in place is critical.   One reason is that SRTS projects are eligible for funding if they are within 2 miles of participating elementary and middle schools BUT only about 35% of K-8 students currently live within 2 miles of their school.   Another example of where our interests converge comes from Ewing, Kentucky -- a small community, about 300 people, in north central Kentucky. They had just spent $75K of federal money to build new sidewalks to the current school which had opened in 1926 and was centrally-located downtown. But recently, the Fleming County School Board passed a new tax for school construction.  With this new tax, Ewing will get the much desired new school but the Superintendent and the school board want to put the new school “in the middle of nothing” according to the town’s former Mayor. There are a lot of points to this story, but the building had been renovated a few years ago with a new elevator and 4 new classrooms but the current renovation cost would exceed 80% of the cost to build a new school, so the Dept. of Education will not fund rehab. Second, they have 4 or 5 sites within the city limits of 15-20 acres but that’s deemed too small for the new school.   While we’re not advocating that every older school can or should be renovated, we do believe that the loss of many of these community-centered schools is completely unnecessary like this one in Normal, Illinois in 2003.
  • We’ve actually been working on this issue since late 1990s when our six regional offices began to get calls asking us to help save older neighborhood schools all across the country. So, we started doing some research into the causes of why these neighborhood schools were being abandoned and tried to raise the visibility of the threat. In 2000, older and historic neighborhood schools were listed on the list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Places (2000); We created advocacy tools such as renovation success stories, The Role of a Feasibility Study; and The Guide to Saving Your Historic School; and And we published our policy findings in the seminal Why Johnny Can’t Walk to School in the Age of Sprawl (2000, 2002); All of these resources can be found on Interestingly, we discovered that there wasn’t one policy or set of policies impacting these siting decisions – but instead, it’s a spaghetti bowl of intertwining practices, perceptions, and policy which created barriers to community-centered schools. For example there’s the pervasive assumption that older schools can’t be retrofitted to provide a 21 st century education; a lack of money for much-needed maintenance; a tendency to plan schools in isolation from other development funding formulas that favor new construction ; percentage rules which discourage renovation by insisting new schools be constructed even if the renovation option is less expensive a lack of taking all of the costs into account when making a decision such as increased busing costs and costs to build new roads and sewers.
  • Today, we’re helping states revise their current policies and practices to encourage more community-centered schools through a cooperative agreement with the US EPA and BEST. A) 27+ orgs advisory committee b) $84K in sub-grants to help organizations research the policies and practices in their states and recommend changes for improving the status quo; c) Provide technical assistance and d) produced a publication with our policy recommendations   In fall of 2008, we brought our sub-grantees and advisors together in this room to do 3 things: Define the term “community-centered schools” Identify state-level barriers Come up with recommendations for state reform both in policy and in practice   Interestingly, our some sub-grantees have found that perception is as much of a problem as policy. For example, several of these organizations have found out that many school districts and consultants continue to plan using outdated minimum acreage size standards whether or not the state or locality actually has such a policy in place. (e.g., PA -- school districts insist on following the state’s acreage requirements, when in fact none exist).  
  • One of our major public policy findings was that many states and school districts recommend or require big sites for schools. The problem with min. acreage requirements is that they leave you with two bad choices: 1) Either find a large open space and then build a “sprawl school” in the middle of nowhere. 2) Or, destroy perfectly good homes near the school to meet the acreage standards To help you visualize what type of acreages we’re talking about – communities are choosing to site their schools on 100+ acres of land – which means very few people will be biking and walking to school. In addition to site requirements, I also want to share with you the result of our own human nature. JUST LIKE GOING THROUGH A DRIVE THROUGH WINDOW AT A FAST FOOD RESTAURANT, we tend to super-size school sites. A study of South Carolina’s coastal counties for the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, for example, found that “school site size has increased every decade since the 1950s and school sites built in the last 20 years are 41 percent larger than those built previously. …schools constructed since 1971… are 47 percent larger than the (Council of Educational Facility Planners International) requirement.” Wait for the Bus: How Lowcountry School Site Selection and Design Deter Walking to School and Contribute to Urban Sprawl , a report for the South Carolina Coastal Conservation League, (November 2009), Christopher Kouri,
  • So you might ask -- how did these site standards become so pervasive? The Council of Educational Facility Planners, International (CEFPI) is an industry organization which for 40 years recommended min. acreage standards in their guidelines. Such policy was subsequently adopted by many states and localities as recommendations or even requirements. But, after urging by the National Trust, EPA, National Center for Preservation Training and Technology and others, CEFPI changed their guidelines in 2004. Now they have a formula where they can figure out how much space to set aside based on what educational programming the district wants to offer.   Some states have eliminated this one-size fits all approach – states like MD, RI, ME, SC, MN, and NM. In 2004 South Carolina required that the State Board of Education “promulgate regulations to eliminate minimum acreage requirements for school site selection.” In 2009 the Minnesota legislature voted to “disallow the Commissioner of Education from taking into account any minimum acreage amount or renovation percentage when making decisions on new school construction applications.” New Mexico decided on a less prescriptive approach and has eliminated the use of minimum acreage standards at the state level. Instead of recommending a certain number of acres based on student size, New Mexico now asks school districts to submit information about the planned curriculum and the desired learning environment when applying for state funding for school renovation or construction.   LEED-ND – new school campuses must not exceed the following: High school – 15 acres Middle – 10 acres Elementary – 5 acres (page 76 – credit #15 – for neighborhood schools)   So check on the policy in your state and school district. If it exists, recommend that they change to LEED-ND with maximum site size or newer CEFPI recommendations. John Bailey, From the Global to the Local: how global warming and school preservation are connected, The Minnesota Preservationist, September/October 2009, pg. 7
  • Cooperation between local governments and school districts can lead to fewer costly delays. Helps schools meet multiple community goals – such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions.   NATIONAL TRUST ADVISOR, SENATOR MARTHA FULLER CLARK INTRODUCED SB 59 bill WHICH   -- requires school districts to investigate feasible options, through a public hearing and with input from municipal boards and departments, when deciding whether to renovate or replace an existing school building.   -- requires plans for construction or renovation of schools to comply with the states comprehensive plan and the principles of smart growth which have been incorporated into New Hampshire statutes.
  • Some people have a hard time imaging renovation is possible but there is also a financial bias against old schools. H ere’s an example from Pennsylvania. Materials often found in older schools – like terrazzo and hardwood floors have longer life-cycles than many of the new materials produced today. Did you know that schools today are designed to last 20-30 years? While regular maintenance and technology retrofits can help an older school continue to serve for another 100 years.   In terms of funding -- Governor Paterson recently signed the Smart Growth Public Infrastructure Act (A8011B/S5560B), which requires infrastructure agencies, including the Dept. of Ed,  "to fund infrastructure in a manner that is consistent with smart growth criteria."  It also limits funding to those projects consistent with local government plans for development and stipulates that the agencies are not allowed to "approve, undertake, support, or finance a public infrastructure  project  unless  it  meets  the established criteria including community-based  planning,  coordination  among   state   and   local governments."    Agencies are also required to "confirm in a written Smart Growth Impact statement that the proposed project meets the smart growth criteria, or give reasons as to why  it does not meet the criteria."   The bill's summary does call out school construction and renovation noting "Consistent with case  law,  nothing  in  this  legislation  should  be construed  to  mean  that  school  building construction or renovation projects be subject to any local zoning laws or ordinances or  subject to local planning boards or other mechanisms for local control."  
  • There is also a financial bias against old schools. This is the historic Kirk Middle School in East Cleveland, Ohio where was demolished IN SPITE OF the State’s own assessment that renovation would have cost $3 million less than building a new school. But Ohio had, until advocates worked to change it, an arbitrary “percentage rule” which calls for new buildings to be constructed even if the renovation option is less expensive. If the cost of renovating an existing school exceeds a stated percentage of the cost of building a new one, then the school district is advised or required by the state to build a new facility. But these calculations typically do not include the costs of demolishing or mothballing the existing building, building new infrastructure (sewer $1,000,000 in Alabama), and land acquisition. Michigan Land Use Institute looked at this issue and found “In every case we studied, building a new school cost more than renovating an older one.” Michigan’s School Construction Boom: The Real Costs of New Public Schools, Michigan Land Institute Special Report     But state funding barriers go beyond the percentage rule. Some states fund new construction at a higher reimbursement rate than they fund rehabilitation, promoting new buildings. Some states make the process for obtaining renovation funding a more difficult process than building a new facility.
  • No studies have assessed the full transportation costs. For example, congestion from parents dropping children at school often leads communities to install traffic signals or add turn lanes near schools. These costs are significant, but are not considered in school siting decisions. Americans spend nearly $20 billion per year to bus 25 million elementary and secondary students to school (US Department of Education, 2008). Locally, taxpayers went from paying for 2 school buses to 15 buses at an annual cost of $32,000 per bus when the school district moved the alternative high school in Boise, Idaho to the edge of the city.
  • No studies have assessed the full transportation costs. For example, congestion from parents dropping children at school often leads communities to install traffic signals or add turn lanes near schools. These costs are significant, but are not considered in school siting decisions. Americans spend nearly $20 billion per year to bus 25 million elementary and secondary students to school (US Department of Education, 2008). Locally, taxpayers went from paying for 2 school buses to 15 buses at an annual cost of $32,000 per bus when the school district moved the alternative high school in Boise, Idaho to the edge of the city.
  • Parking and athletic fields continue to be challenges and its hard finding solutions that both local residents, parents, local planners, zoning officials and administrators agree on. But I put this image up here to show that good design can help. This is 1919 school in El Paso Texas utilizes a minimum # of acres and still produces good football teams. Parking solutions including having students pay for parking, limiting parking to oldest grades, and sharing parking lots with nearby entities that need parking at different times of the day -- such as religious buildings, theaters, parks and rec depts.
  • Rosa Parks School in Portland Oregon; built new in older neighborhood; community uses; community planning; joint use   Joint use / shared use includes - ballfields, auditoriums, boys and girls clubs, health clinics, parks and rec departments, and after-hour activities   50-state scan conducted by National Policy & Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity; also legal tools for school districts Joint use Calculator available for download at 21 st Century School Fund website
  • Kansas City decided to shutter 26 of the district's 61 schools because they had a) half-filled schools and b) a $50 million annual deficit. Enrollment today is less than 18,000 students, half what it was a decade ago. 21 st Century school Fund has helped the District of Columbia devise a good plan and Historic Columbus is also working on developing a good plan. School Choice – discussion – charters are boon for older schools
  • Step # 1 - Research Step # 2 - Build a Strong Coalition Step # 3 - Recommend Changes and Make the Case Keep Learning Join Listserv Comment on EPA voluntary school siting guidelines (due out summer 2010)
  • Banner that says “Let the choices you make today be choices you can live with tomorrow” hung in one of 4 elementary schools set to be demolished in Minnesota
  • Would welcome the opportunity to talk with you further about these recommendations and learn how we might be able to work together. Matt Dalbey from EPA and I have a listserve where we send out occasional articles on the topic of community-centered schools. If you’re interested in being on this “non-intrusive” listserv, please let either Matt or myself know.
  • Creating Livable Communities Through Smart School Siting

    1. 1. How You Can Create Livable Communities Through Community-Centered Schools <ul><li>Renee Kuhlman </li></ul><ul><li>Director of Special Projects </li></ul><ul><li>Center for State and Local Policy </li></ul>Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike 2010
    2. 2. What Are “Community-Centered” Schools?
    3. 3. Walkable Schools = Multiple Community Benefits
    4. 4. … “ factors such as school location have played a significant role in the decreased rates of walking to school, and changes in policy may help to increase the number of children who are able to walk to school.” Committee on Environmental Health American Academy of Pediatricians (2009) The Built Environment Affects Physical Activity
    5. 5. Fewer Vehicle Miles Traveled ( VMT ) Improves Air Quality
    6. 6. Sadly, Community-Centered Schools Are NOT the Norm
    7. 7. Advocacy Resources www.
    8. 8. Helping Johnny Walk to School : Sustaining Communities through Smart Policy Advisory Committee Sub-grants and Technical Assistance Information & Policy Recommendations
    9. 9. Nal What Does 100 Acres Look Like? 32 blocks in Old Town Alexandria, Va.
    10. 10. Eliminate Minimum Acreage Site Standards and Requirements Location of proposed elementary school Location of current Billings, Montana elementary school
    11. 11. New Hampshire Senate Bill 59 New York Smart Growth Act Keene, New Hampshire Encourage Inter-Agency Planning Coordination and Public Input
    12. 13. Put Renovation Option on Equal Footing in Funding Formulas
    13. 14. Encourage “Full Cost” Accounting
    14. 15. Teaching Sustainable Options: Elaine Clegg and Grow Smart Idaho
    15. 16. Get Creative With Parking and Athletic Fields
    16. 17. Share Spaces
    17. 18. Encourage Thoughtful School Closures
    18. 19. What You Can Do Step # 1 - Research Step # 2 - Build a Diverse Coalition Step # 3 - Recommend Changes and Make the Case
    19. 20. Renee Kuhlman Center for State and Local Policy Phone: 202-588-6234 Phone: 540-961-1661
    20. 21. <ul><li>Renee Kuhlman </li></ul><ul><li>Center for State and Local Policy </li></ul><ul><li>National Trust for </li></ul><ul><li>Historic Preservation </li></ul><ul><li>Phone: 202-588-6234 </li></ul><ul><li>[email_address] </li></ul><ul><li> </li></ul>