Articles in the School Buildings category

Historic site preservation in L.A.

Los Angeles Unified, known for racking up some of the largest bills for school construction projects in history, has a new project at the top of its chart.

The project to build schools on the site of the former Ambassador Hotel—a historic icon where Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated—is now estimated to cost more than $578 million, according to the Los Angeles Times. The K-12 campus was more recently redesigned after construction began to include a handful of small schools.

Part of the gigantic price tag went for preservation of a handful of the most prized features of the once-luminous hotel, but other factors were the cost of the site’s premier location on Wilshire Boulevard. and years of legal wrangling with developers (including Donald Trump, who wanted the land to build the world’s tallest building).


Kathleen Vail|August 2nd, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, NSBA Publications, School Buildings|

New on

Every school district will take a different path to green. While some will take a districtwide commitment, utilizing environmentally-friendly practices from the ground up in building construction, others will tackle specific areas like energy management, indoor air quality or cleaning practices. No matter your approach, the gains and savings yielded by becoming more planet conscious can still add up in significant ways, says Rachel Gutter, director of the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council. Read Gutter’s advice and examples of district’s that started small, big and in between on the path to green. But hurry, it’s free here only for a limited time.

Naomi Dillon|June 8th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, NSBA Publications, School Buildings|

Climate, not cameras, a remedy for student violence

Stock Vault

Stock Vault

I hate security cameras. So it really irritated me to read this week that Philadelphia schools chief Arlene Ackerman decided to install 126 security cameras inside troubled South Philadelphia High School.

It made me sad to learn that several other Philly high schools already have 100+ cameras looking over students’ shoulders.

Two things irk me about security cameras in schools. First, it’s a sign that the dangers of Big Brother did not diminish with the end of the Cold War.

Second—and a more practical argument—security cameras don’t discourage hotheaded kids from turning to violence. It just makes video of any incident available for broadcast on the evening news.

 I can understand why Ackerman thinks she had to act. In December, racial unrest led to several incidents—the most notable when African-American and Asian students clashed, with some groups of students allegedly going from room to room to target students for attack.


Kathleen Vail|May 13th, 2010|Categories: American School Board Journal, Discipline, School Buildings, School Climate, School Security|

New on

Congratulations! Your district has made a committment to green its schools. But before you dive headfirst into the new recycling bins, you need a clear plan on how you are going to go from status quo to environmental hero.  In an ASBJ exclusive, Rachel Gutter, director of the U.S. Green Building Council’s education sector, explains why mapping out your district’s green vision and sharing it with the community is an important step in promoting sustainability — for the plan and the planet. Read Gutter’s advice now online for a limited time.

Naomi Dillon|December 10th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, NSBA Publications, School Buildings|Tags: |

Apperance of books, libraries may change, but contents remain the same

stockvault_21326_20091028At 51, I’m one of the few people my age who can boast of using an old-fashioned dip pen and inkwell in elementary school. Who remembers sitting at the back of a frigid classroom in winter, while the teacher snuggled up at the front of the room beside a cast-iron, pot-bellied stove.

Who had to put on a coat and shiver while doing his private business in the unheated, roofless school bathroom on the other side of the lawn.

Ah, nostalgia. Old memories are always so rosy . . . and boring to everyone else.

But my tiptoeing down Memory Lane and a Normal Rockwell youth might help you understand why I occasionally find disconcerting the growing technology in our schools.

Oh, I’m resigned to the fact that the Ticonderoga pencil is losing out to the computer keyboard. I’m not surprised that, instead of wielding a stub of chalk, today’s students fiddle about with large-screen, electronic “smart boards.”

Mind you, I still have a problem with the widespread use of the calculator. When it comes to basic everyday math, I’ve noticed at the grocery store I can calculate my change faster than the young clerk can read the screen of today’s electronic cash registers.

But what really leaves me queasy is the idea that the school library is on the brink of historic change—some even talk of its demise.

Naomi Dillon|November 5th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, School Buildings|

Harnessing the power of 21st century skills in building design

Why is “critical thinking” considered a 21st century skill?

If you really think about it–no pun intended–hasn’t “critical thinking’ been around for centuries?

Before we think about 21st century skills, we should understand the technologies and learning styles that the Millennial generation is accustomed to, says David McDiarmid, a senior consultant with the Sextant Group, a technology and audiovisual communications consulting group, who presented at the Council of Educational Facility Planners International conference here this week.

These students, for instance, do not respond well to the traditional, lecture-style classroom, with rows of desks and an electronic whiteboard at the front. They expect to be connected 24-7, McDiarmid adds, and they’re less open and receptive to specific boundaries, such as a schedule and specific place and time for learning.

That said, designing classrooms to best harness their style requires educators and facility planners to be open-minded. Since 21st century skills often incorporate project-based curricula, a classroom should be configured to allow for group settings, with furniture that can be arranged in small groups around the perimeter, and of course with enough plugs so that every student can use a laptop.

Electronic whiteboards should have the capabilities to be rotated 90 degrees–picture a group of elementary-age students sitting in a circle with pages of a book projected in the middle.

Virtual learning will continue to expand, and more students will take use online classes to give them the flexibility of learning on their schedule.

Naomi Dillon|September 30th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, School Buildings|

Where does it STEM from?

1009ASBJIt’s another crisis in America, again impacting the country’s competitiveness in the world, and requiring education to step up and meet the challenge.

The push for more STEM curriculum or science, technology, math, and engineeering  instruction in schools is the latest calamity and call to action. It’s also the cover package of October’s ASBJ.

You’ll have to read my colleague, Larry Hardy’s story to get an overview of the issue and whether this really is a crisis.

In doing research and reporting for the accompanying sidebars, however, I discovered there really is some validity to the “crisis” designation— and its buried in the ground.

Game simulations, video conferencing, online learnings— schools have myriad new technology applications available today, enabling to make instruction in STEM subjects (any subjects for that matter) more relevant, dynamic, and customizable to each student.

Problem is, you can’t really access those applications unless you have the technological infrastructure to support them.

Naomi Dillon|September 28th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, School Buildings|Tags: , , , , , |

Finding the green to go green


A few days ago I was asked to participate on a panel at a conference held by the U.S. Green Building Council, the people who certify schools and other buildings that are built with environmentally friendly principles. And as these things tend to go, I learned as much from the audience as they did from me.

Almost everyone told me they had tried to contact their school board members. What became clear after a few conversations was that school board members are often skeptical, and in this case, many either did not have a construction or renovation project in the works or did not see the need to learn about sustainable designs and practices.

But they should, we agreed: Building green has become a no-brainer for school districts. Green, or sustainable, school designs shouldn’t cost significantly more, and lower operating costs will ultimately save money. And perhaps most compelling is that there is a growing body of research that shows students and staff who spend their days in these school buildings are healthier, miss fewer days of school, and actually learn more.

Not to mention that these buildings have a minimal impact on their environment, and their features can be used as teaching tools.

One person told me about a presentation on green schools he’d given recently at a statewide meeting of school administrators. His show was hijacked, he said, by the school officials who had built green schools for their communities and wanted to convince the skeptics of those benefits.

What many people don’t realize is that you don’t even need to build a new school to take advantage of some of the best green designs. Most older buildings can be retrofitted with features like solar panels, energy-efficient windows that let in more daylight (one of the factors that has been linked with better student performance) and ventilation systems that allow better indoor air quality, a key factor in reducing flare-ups of asthma and other respiratory conditions.

Here at ASBJ, we want to help you learn about sustainable designs and how to incorporate those into both new buildings and renovations of existing facilities. Join us tomorrow, Sept. 24, at 2 p.m. EDT for a webinar  that will feature Rachel Gutter of the USGBC, who will explain the benefits of green, and John Gayetsky and Kathy Prosser, environmental specialists with the Association of School Business Officials International, who will explain how to use these principles to improve and maintain your facilities. We’ll even tell you how to find new sources of money to do so.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|September 23rd, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, Governance, Multimedia and Webinars, School Buildings, School Climate, Student Achievement|

Should you wait to build your new school?



 I’m feeling a bit duped.

Three years ago, when I was writing about school construction, experts were saying that school districts needed to hurry up and build before prices rose any further. Back then, there seemed to be no limit to how high the prices of construction materials would go, contractors were in high demand, and enrollments in many districts just kept rising.

Turns out, you would have saved a lot of money—and perhaps headaches–if you’d just waited.

With the fall of the economy, construction prices have plummeted, contractors are begging for work, and some districts that had projected years of enrollment growth are seeing families leave because they lost their jobs. Also, there are a bunch of new federal grants and incentives for energy efficiency and green building, both new construction and renovations.

It’s absolutely maddening, but the lesson learned is that good planning is crucial. Regardless of the economy, schools should be able to project what their enrollments will be in five, 10, or 15 years and which areas of the district are seeing growth or decline in school-age populations. And those plans, we now know, must be flexible enough to accommodate sudden and unexpected shifts like some we’ve seen in recent months.

The one thing I’ve learned from personal experience recently—after spending three years looking for the perfect house and trying to decide on the best time to sell an investment property—is that predicting the market is impossible. What matters most is what’s right for your district—if you need a new school and can raise the necessary funds, build it now. If you don’t need more space, or don’t have the cash in hand, don’t do it. You may still get a good, or better, deal a few years from now.

Regardless of your situation, it helps tremendously to know what’s happening in the construction industry and know the best design features for new schools, so you’ll be prepared when the time comes to build or renovate. Fortunately for my family, my obsession with the real estate market here in Northern Virginia helped me find a great house at a greatly reduced price. We know its value could decline if the economy goes down further, but we also know it’s the right fit for us for the next few years.

With that in mind, ASBJ’s October issue is chock-full of advice on how to plan and build schools that will fit your district for the foreseeable future, and how to best harness the ups and downs of this crazy economy we’re in. And be sure to tune in to our webinar, “Facilities and Construction Money: Where to Find It,” co-hosted with our friends at the Association of School Business Officials International, on Sept. 24. For registration and more information, go to here.

 Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|September 16th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Multimedia and Webinars, School Buildings|

Simple steps lead to big savings for Nevada’s largest district

Warning: the actions of Nevada’s Clark County district will probably lead to a, “duh, why didn’t I think of that” moment.

In recent years the district has saved millions by turning off lights, appliances, air conditioning, and pretty much anything else that saps electricity while schools are closed. That’s something a lot of schools have been doing, as energy costs have risen and a growing awareness of the environmental impact has caused people to change their behaviors.

But Clark County has gone a step further— actually unplugging those appliances. It’s a small step that Dick Cuppert, the district’s energy manager, believes will save the district another $250,000 this summer, according to the Las Vegas Sun

Apparently, appliances like coffee pots or lamps still use a small amount of electricity when they are plugged in, and that miniscule usage adds up for a massive district like Clark County.

The district has a comprehensive energy savings program that includes simple steps such as installing motion-sensor light switches and cutting off lights in vending machines.

Naomi Dillon|July 8th, 2009|Categories: American School Board Journal, Budgeting, School Buildings|Tags: , , |
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