Ill Feelings

Many education administrators are feeling the heat this summer — and not just because it's July.

A rash of attacks by parents, teachers and students targeting facilities they say are making them sick is surfacing across the nation. Most recently, the local teachers' union sued the Miami-Dade (Florida) school district, the fourth largest in the nation, alleging it responded inadequately to repeated complaints by teachers and that rampant mold growth, sewer-gas seepage and other indoor-environmental-quality problems in four schools is sickening occupants. The union is threatening to have the four schools closed under public-nuisance laws if the environmental problems are not remedied by the end of summer. In southern New Jersey, a group of parents upset over a district's handling of mold contamination at two schools is attempting to recall some board members.

Poor indoor environmental quality and unsafe building conditions in America's schools are well documented. And while many education administrators have been trying diligently to address problems within existing means, the latest accusations portray leadership that is unresponsive. True or not, administrators often find themselves in hot water when a lack of communication contributes to a perception that concerns are not being adequately addressed — and emotions get especially heated when children are involved.

While there are many resources that can help education institutions remedy indoor-environmental-quality issues (such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's “Healthy School Environments” web page, http://cfpub.epa.gov/schools/index.cfm), effective communication and responsiveness to complaints and concerns often is as important as what is actually done to fix the problem.

With renovation and construction projects in full swing this summer at many education institutions, it's vital that indoor-environmental-quality issues are addressed during (as well as after) the process, and that teachers, parents and staff are regularly apprised of the progress.

By opening the lines of communication, building occupants are less likely to feel ignored or that administrators are not responding to their concerns. After all, it's better to be proactive and do what you can to prevent ill feelings rather than let situations escalate to where building occupants feel ill.

SCORECARD

$11.2

Amount, in billions, spent in 2003 by school districts on adding to and modernizing existing facilities.

$5.3

Amount, in billions, spent in 2003 by colleges and universities on adding to and modernizing existing buildings.

$32.9

Amount, in billions, projected to be spent by the nation's school districts on addition and modernization projects over the next three years (2004-06).

$20.7

Amount, in billions, projected to be spent by the nation's higher-education institutions on addition and modernization projects over the next three years (2004-06).

2

Region of the country (NJ and NY) that will spend the most on adding to and modernizing existing K-12 facilities ($5.4 billion) in 2004-06.

Source: American School & University's 30th annual Official Education Construction Report.

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