Climate change threatens America’s ragged school infrastructure

By: | June 28, 2021

More than half the country’s public school districts need to update or replace multiple building systems or features, according to a 2020 estimate by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The G.A.O. estimates that about 36,000 schools nationwide need to update or replace their HVAC systems.

School facilities in low-income communities are in poorer condition than those in more affluent districts and cost more to keep up, further exacerbating inequities, researchers have found. In 2014, the U.S. Department of Education estimated the total cost of needed repairs at $197 billion, or around $220 billion in 2021 dollars.

Leaking roofs, lead pipes and faulty heating and cooling systems are surprisingly common in America’s schools. Structural reinforcements to protect against catastrophic weather events are not. In places like Seward, natural disasters intensified by climate change, like increased rains, flooding and storm surges, could severely damage or even level entire school structures. (It’s happened before. In 1917, floodwaters ripped Seward’s first schoolhouse from its foundation.)

Poorly maintained buildings make it harder for kids to learn, research shows, and can cause health problems for both the country’s 50 million students and 6 million staff, who spend a third of their waking hours in schools. School buildings also serve as community centers, especially in small towns where the schools are often the largest physical structures for many miles. In times of crisis, school facilities often play a key role as places of shelter for local residents. All these functions are better served by properly maintained buildings constructed to withstand whatever the regional climate throws at them.

Read more from The Hechinger Report.

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