Some School Districts Face Unseen Hurdles in Bid to Build Green


Ever wondered how challenging the world of operating a school district can legally get? Well I'm pretty sure it can be tough to do, but this certainly looks like a positive development to me Led by Representative Leach, the Pennsylvania House of Reps. recently passed legislation that would give school incentives that can help them construct cleaner and more efficient LEED buildings by forgoing some state-imposed cost restrictions when building environmentally friendly school buildings.

What's the issue? Well, consider the case of a school board in that state who wants to build to LEED standards but currently runs up against a Pennsylvania law, Act 34, which is commonly referred to as the "Taj Mahal Act". Intended to stop outlandish building projects, it requires local school boards to receive voter approval before building excessively expensive schools. It only applies when a school district attempts to receive partial reimbursement from the state for construction costs, but a referendum is triggered if they're spending more than allowed under a state formula, which takes into consideration the number of students and the proposed size of the school. It sounds logical, but the real-world implication for school districts, however, is that referendums cost a ton of cash to hold, so in practice they never actually hold one, and just choose to build smaller buildings instead. And that effectively caps school spending on building projects in the process.
The problem is that while the law was intended to keep school districts from building these excessively large structures, it has come to mean that LEED buildings are usually off the table before they even get a chance to be considered regardless of how badly the school board wants to build them. And that's because the up-front costs of building LEED buildings is higher than standard building codes, pushing them over the cap under the formula. Of course, the formula doesn't take into account the fact that schools built according to LEED standards are much more energy-efficient, reduce pollution and are significantly cheaper to operate in the long run. All of which gives, I think, a great piece of insight into the difficulties that I'm willing to bet schools in more than a few states are facing as they look to build greener structures. As Rep. Leach points out "The up-front cost of LEED construction has been deterring school districts from implementing the standards -- even though the savings realized over the 30-40 year lifespan of a school are many times the initial additional cost". Hopefully the Pennsylvania Senate will see the light and pass this thing too... And who knows, maybe there are members of the legislature in other states who've come to realize this same thing is happening to their schools as well, and are willing to step up to the plate and help change those laws as well.

via: Press Release