Maintenance & Operations

School Buildings: Their Relationship to the Learning Environment, Behavior and Attitude.

Economic struggles continue to hinder the proper funding for most school divisions when accounting for maintenance and capital improvement monies. There is a substantial amount of research supporting schools, ensuring a positive influence on student learning and achievement, as well as student behavior and attitude. As accountability measures increase, our school buildings must continue to be inviting to students. State and federal dropout rates hinge on our students not only attending school on a regular basis, but graduating from high school on time.

School divisions across the country must continue to focus on providing quality maintenance and upkeep in their schools. Schools that are well maintained and deemed as standard, impact the way children learn and influence student achievement. Schools that are deemed substandard have higher instances of student distraction, inattentiveness, stress, depression and hyperactivity. Schools that are well maintained and deemed standard impact the morale, perceptions and mood of students and their feelings about their school buildings. Many of us have come upon schools that do not have adequate lighting and are not aesthetically pleasing. Issues that are often compounded by poor thermal comfort and inadequate maintenance practices cause students and staff to endure a less than ideal environment.

Let’s not forget about our dedicated and hard-working teachers. They deserve an optimal environment to deliver instruction. Schools that are deemed standard have higher instances of teacher attendance and morale. Poor teacher attendance can also be correlated to poor achievement. For instance, the calculus teacher is absent and a substitute is required. More often than not, substitutes have limited knowledge of the content area to which they are assigned. The teacher’s absence results in a lost day of instruction that cannot be recaptured. Substandard schools that have poor ventilation and mold issues can hinder those teachers who develop other health and respiratory issues from consistently being at work.

When assessing the need to evaluate a school building’s condition, The Commonwealth Assessment of Physical Environment is a quality instrument commonly used in Virginia to determine if a school building is deemed standard or substandard. The assessment is diverse in questioning and contains multiple building condition variables to include structural and cosmetic conditions. Dr. Carol Cash, associate professor at Virginia Tech, is the originator of this assessment. The building principal traditionally completes the assessment. The Virginia Standards of Learning are used as the resource for academic data for public institutions. Once the survey is completed, the building is identified as standard or substandard. Based upon the criteria established in the survey, there is often seen a correlation between building condition and student achievement.

As a result of budget constraints school divisions need to be proactive when seeking alternative funding for much needed school improvement projects. Traditional funding sources such as performance contracts or municipal bonds may politically limit opportunities for upgrading existing infrastructures. A Demand Response program is a unique way to create financial resources in return for participation in a voluntary program. The program is designed to redirect energy resources during periods of high demand. There are energy curtailment providers throughout the nation that work with public schools in an attempt to reduce kW load during periods of peak demand. An energy reduction event usually occurs in the summer months. In return for the curtailment school divisions can earn compensation.

In lieu of performance contracting, a school division may want to act as their own Energy Service Company (ESCO). Financial institutions are willing to support lease-purchase options. This option is extremely attractive when looking to reduce energy costs. For example, if your school division has not yet upgraded from T-12 lighting, there is a tremendous financial benefit to upgrade to LED lighting. A school division can enter into a lease-purchase agreement for a large-scale LED lighting project and be assured that by including materials and installation, the return of investment can be gained in a short period of time.

It is imperative that we maintain our schools in such a manner that the school environment does not distract from our students ability to learn and achieve. By being diligent in our efforts in seeking non-traditional funding options we will better be able to generate resources that can be directed toward school improvements. There is no better investment than in our children.

This article originally appeared in the July 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

John A. Bailey, Ph.D. is the director of School Plants for Chesapeake Public Schools and a National School Plant Managers Association board member, representing Virginia, and a Virginia School Plant Managers Association board member, representing Region II, in Virginia.

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