Written by Renee Kuhlman
We need your help to ring in the New Year with new … federal guidelines?
Yes, and there’s no time to waste.
In November, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency released a draft of the voluntary federal guidelines for siting schools. Over the next couple of months, they’d very much like to hear from people like you—folks who care about the well-being of their communities. Specifically, the EPA wants your comments on their proposed guidance around the complex decision-making process of where to locate schools in a healthy and safe manner.
Why take time out of your busy schedule to comment? Because the guidelines will directly affect efforts to preserve or renovate historic schools and will impact the reuse of older buildings for educational purposes.
As we well know, schools are a linchpin for the health of a neighborhood. If a community-centered school is left empty after closure or razed, property values fall, private and public investment tends to shrivel, and the spirits of the local residents are dampened. However, if a community decides to renovate, retrofit, or expand an older school, then property values rise, additional rehabilitation is spurred, and confidence in the area’s future grows.
These guidelines are intended to be used by Local Education Agencies (LEAs), tribal governments, state agencies, and for everyone involved in the siting process. Moreover, this guidance is to be consulted before decisions are made whether or not to renovate the existing school. It’s critical that we provide the EPA with comments from our preservation perspective.
Are the guidelines long? Certainly. It’s the federal government. But in terms of other federal guidance, they seem VERY short by comparison. Plus, they’ve made it easy for us. They’ve broken the guidelines into bite-sized pieces and provided a lot of excellent navigating tools.
So here’s my “wish list” of what I’d like to see happen:
- First, share this opportunity widely with your neighbors, historic preservation commissions, Certified Local Governments (CLGs), nonprofit preservation organizations, teachers, principals, and even your pediatrician! Anyone concerned about where schools are located should read the guidelines and offer their comments.
- Second, let the EPA know that we, the preservation community, appreciate the language that calls for retaining older, community-centered schools. Urge them to retain and even expand these references in their final version.
- Third, review the 10 parts of the draft. To help, we've provided links to each section and pointed out pieces that would be of particular interest to preservationists.
- Finally, share your own experiences with schools in your community and how you see these guidelines being used in the future.
In late January, we’ll post the National Trust’s comments that we send to the EPA. For example, we’ll recommend good environmental practices that would help reduce air pollution while encouraging the preservation of older schools such as:
- As part of the Environmental Review Process, a Local Education Agency could compare the number of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMTs) between where students live and the different school locations. Since older schools tend to be located nearer the residents they serve, they would fare well in such a comparison and if the community chose to renovate (or expand) the existing school, then fewer greenhouse gas emissions would be emitted.
- Also as part of the Environmental Review Process, LEAs could compare the population density per square mile of the existing school site versus the other proposed sites. Researchers have found students are more likely to bike or walk if the facility is located less than 1 mile from home and these ways of traveling don’t use fossil fuels!
So those are my two ideas for today. What suggestions or comments do you have for EPA and how do you see these guidelines playing a role in future siting decisions in your area? Remember, comments are due to the EPA by February 18, 2011.
Renee Kuhlman directs the Helping Johnny Walk to School: Sustaining Communities through Smart Policy project at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
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