A Tough Balancing Act

In 2008, school districts in the United States spent just over $19.5B on construction projects completed during the year. This included nearly $13B on new schools and more than $6 billion on additions and renovations. Judging by the quality of projects shown in this year’s Education Design Showcase, it was money well spent. These facilities were designed to serve students and community, announcing the importance of education. But without proper maintenance, even quality construction will quickly deteriorate.

It is common knowledge that when school budgets tighten, the maintenance department is first to feel the pinch. The first priority for any school district is (and should be) educating kids. For most this means their dollars go toward instructional programs — not facilities. While cutting back on maintenance may seem to be a good economizer, teachers can’t teach and students can’t learn if the lights are out. We have already seen the effects of deferred maintenance on many of our school buildings — broken windows, leaky roofs, HVAC systems in poor repair, mold growing on restroom walls, sick students and staff. The list goes on.
This is where the balancing act begins. Instructional programs are important, but so is facility condition. We need to educate our students, take pride in our schools, protect our investments, and be good stewards of taxpayer money. One can’t happen without the other.