President Obama outlined his education goals broadly in his inaugural address: “We will transform our schools and colleges and universities to meet the demands of a new age.” The White House Website offers more specifics of the new administration’s comprehensive vision of educational reform but the real nitty gritty at the schoolhouse bricks-and-mortar level is tucked deeply into the Democrats’ draft economic stimulus bill, where $20 billion is earmarked for school remodeling, renovation and repair. Another $100 million would go for school rehab on federal lands.

The quick-start projects, with an emphasis on roofing, energy efficiency, rewiring and improvement of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, will likely please contractors more than design firms. An “emphasis on purely shovel-ready projects...will not provide the lasting benefit to our economy and infrastructure that is so sorely needed,” said a letter sent on Jan. 15 to congressional leaders from eight professional associations, including the American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the American Planning Association. These groups would like to see infrastructure funds divided into two stages: one for work that can be initiated within 180 days of enactment and one for longer-term projects.

20.1 Billion
$14 billion for K-12 and $6 billion for higher education structural remodeling, renovation and repair.

A recent General Services Administration report put the bill for rehabbing the nation’s K-12 schools at $112 billion. About one-third of the buildings—many in impoverished urban districts—are more than 40 years old and two-thirds require asbestos or lead abatement. The House bill would devote $14 billion for K-12 structures, with preference for so- called Title 1 schools serving students from low-income environments.

The spending formulas favor urban schools with a low tax base. New York City’s school capital program operates in five-year cycles. The city is concluding a $13.9-billion program this year and is looking at an $11.3-billion program for 2010-2014.

“With both plans combined, we are on track to create 130 new schools and 80,000 new seats,” says Will Havemann, city Dept. of Education spokesman. The agency hopes the stimulus package will offset state and local budget cuts, he says.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is using a $7-billion bond issue passed in November to whittle into a $60-billion capital requirement. The district has a wish-list of about $800 million worth of projects that can be built quickly, says Guy Mehula, LAUSD chief facilities executive. Half is for green and renewable-energy projects, which get preference under the House allocation.

San Francisco’s 102 K-12 schools are also feeling the state’s financial crunch, says Yonko Radonov, San Francisco Unified School District director of facilities design and construction. The district has 180 roofs that need attention and no matching construction funds.

Miami-Dade County Public Schools has let nearly all the projects in its $3.5-billion capital program, “but we still have hundreds of millions of dollars in shovel-ready mode, which we now have on hold due to reduced projected revenue,” says Victor Alonso, schools design officer. The district will now turn to “deferred maintenance, energy efficiency, renovation and replacement schools for many facilities built in the 1950s,” he says.

Edgewater High School Expansion/Renovations Fla. Middle/senior high school 73.4
Preschool and Elementary Campus $49,999 Pa. Miscellaneous education building  
Leith Walk Elem. School #245 (renov./addition) Md. Primary school 45
Life Sciences Building N.Y. College/university 32
Rebuild James Simons Elementary School
S.C. Primary school 30

While inner-city schools are shaping up as natural candidates for many of the proposed stimulus dollars, needs in many suburbs could go unfunded. Fast-growing Loudoun County, Va., is dealing with an annual student enrollment increase of 2,500 students. Since 1993 the county has built 40 schools and added 40,350 students to meet demand, but now is suffering from the collapse of the housing market. Officials expect to see Title 1 Washington, D.C., schools claim stimulus money before they would benefit. “We’re resigned to our fate that we’re left to paddle our own canoe out here,” says Wayne Byard, spokesperson for Loudoun County Public Schools.