Imagine walking into a Baltimore City public school, noticing immediately the light streaming in through the windows, the attractive rooms where children are excitedly discussing their latest project, the sound of a flute coming from the music room. Could this be a Baltimore City school?
YES, IT COULD be, if Baltimore citizens and leaders team with President-Elect Barack Obama to combine the promises of school renovation with job creation. The effort could pay off in even greater terms if the new jobs also trained and employed the women and men in those local communities to do the work, and purchased materials locally — an investment that will help us build vibrant communities. And, greater again, if the renovations and construction used energy-efficient, “green” technologies.
The challenge is huge. Recent analysis shows that City school buildings need $2.7 billion in renovation/construction to meet industry standards. Current state and city funding, however, is not sufficient to even keep all of the boilers working. Children and teachers daily go to schools where the heat is unpredictable in winter and the classrooms are sweltering when the weather warms up. Air quality (important in a city with a high asthma rate) is poor. And, it’s just darn depressing to study in rooms with opaque plexiglass windows and go to recess on paved playgrounds surrounded by old chain-link fences. It’s tough to inspire creative learning in such places.
Is it audacious to imagine great public school buildings in Baltimore? There could be a wonderful synergy with Baltimore’s dilapidated school buildings, the President-Elect’s interest in school repair and job creation, cheaper green building technologies, and a growing local commitment for better school facilities. Some local efforts have already begun. The mayor and school system are studying alternative financing options to build 8-10 new schools and renovate others. The school CEO asserts that finding funding for school renovations is a top priority. Parents, students, and school staff have long called for major improvements.
Rebuilding schools can pay off tremendously — in job creation and community revitalization, as well as student achievement and teacher retention. Green schools cost a little more to build (2%) but generate savings twenty times that amount in the long term. It’s audacious but we could rebuild all of Baltimore’s public schools and create green jobs.
Mr. Obama, our children want to know—when can you take a meeting?