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McClure Elementary

Pennsylvania governor proposes $1.1 billion effort to combat asbestos and lead In schools

Jan. 29, 2020
Gov. Tom Wolf's plan comes as many school districts are dealing with environmental hazards in aging facilities.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed a $1.1 billion package to help eliminate lead and asbestos contamination in the state’s schools, homes, day care facilities and public water systems.

CBS Philly reports that one key element of the plan would set aside up to $1 billion in grants from the state’s primary bond-funded redevelopment program for lead and asbestos cleanups in schools.

The program now allows governors and lawmakers to direct hundreds of millions of dollars every year to favored projects, both private and public, but it traditionally has not been used for school construction or improvement projects.

The proposal comes as school districts, including Philadelphia and Scranton, are increasingly grappling with environmental hazards in aging and deteriorating school buildings, such as lead, mold and asbestos.

The union representing Philadelphia teachers sued the school district last week over the asbestos problems, saying it failed to protect students and employees from asbestos hazards. The district has had to close several campuses this school year because of the presence of asbestos.

McClure Elementary School in Philadelphia was reopened Wednesday,  Philadelphia Patch reports, after the district completed repairs and cleanup to rid the building of asbestos hazards.

The district has closed McClure twice in 2019-20 because of the presence of asbestos.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney calls the governor’s proposal “bold.”

“After decades of inadequate state funding, which necessitated substantial deferred maintenance, Philadelphia and other school districts across the Commonwealth have school buildings requiring billions of dollars in renovations, remediation, and repairs," Kenney says. "These investments can no longer wait, and I sincerely appreciate Governor Wolf’s leadership on this critical issue."

Pennsylvania, beset by post-recession budget deficits, shut down a roughly $300 million-a-year school construction program five years ago. That left even the poorest school districts since then to pay for improvement projects themselves.

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