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Travel and Environmental Implications of School Siting Kevin M. Nelson, AICP US EPA Smart Growth Program. American Public Health Association Washington, DC November 9, 2004. What’s the connection?. Communities are evaluating their growth patterns and educational investments.

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Travel and Environmental Implications of School SitingKevin M. Nelson, AICPUS EPA Smart Growth Program

American Public

Health Association

Washington, DC

November 9, 2004

what s the connection
What’s the connection?

Communities are

evaluating their

growth patterns




what s the connection1
What’s the connection?
  • The School affects community growth.
  • The School facility is a major financial investment that the entire community bears.
what happened to schools
What happened to schools?

What did we have a

generation or two ago?

  • Small schools (avg 127)
  • Schools as centers of community
  • Investment in school facilities as public places
  • 2/3 of all students walking or biking
what happened to schools1
What happened to schools?

What do we have now?

  • 70% more students, 70% fewer schools
  • Mega-schools (avg. 653)
  • 40% of HS more than 1000
  • Schools on 10-30+ acres of fringe land
  • Mass produced, lowest-cost construction
  • Less than 10% of students walking or biking (CDC, 1999)

Lots of congestion and space used for parking!

what happened to schools4
What happened to schools?

South Carolina Coastal Conservation League

and the environment
School location and design DO affect the environment

Schools built close to students, in walkable neighborhoods

Can reduce traffic

Yield 13% increase in walking and biking

Reduce emissions 15%

Need more work on this!

… and the environment?
what happened to people1
What happened to people?
  • Epidemic of poor health in children
    • Overweight and obesity
    • Asthma
    • High blood pressure
  • Educational achievement?
why has it happened
Why has it happened?
  • Flight to suburbs (cause and effect)
  • Education theories
  • Diversity goals
  • Increasing costs of education
  • Increasing cost and space needs of extracurriculars
  • Site selection rules
  • Construction & renovation funding
chance to change is now
Chance to change is now!
  • Converging interest in smaller schools that meet diverse goals:
    • Education – more personal attention, fewer dropouts, higher achievement
    • Community – anchor, sign of investment, activity spot
    • Public health – walking, recreation
    • Environment – air quality, water quality
  • Forty thousand or more “baby boom” schools 40+ years old

… AND …

  • 1.3 million more K-12 students in next couple years
    • Renovate or build new? Build mega or smaller?
    • $100-300 BILLION will be spent
rules of the game 2 3
Rules of the game: 2/3
  • 2/3 Rule
  • 60% Rule
  • If the cost of renovating a school exceeds some percentage of new construction costs, a new school must be built.
  • This policy is adopted even when renovation options could yield “like new” schools for less.
rules of the game feasibility
Rules of the game: feasibility

Feasibility studies of new vs renovation

  • Costs of renovation are often overestimated.
  • Renovation possibilities are often overlooked.
  • Sometimes conducted by consultants who have financial interest in building new schools.
rules of the game acreage
EPA commissioned Council of Educational Facilities Planners International (CEFPI) to do a study on state policies.

27 states have some minimum acreage requirement.

Rules of the game: acreage
rules of the game acreage1
Let’s do the math for“Anyburb Senior High”

1500 students

35 acres + 15 =

A minimum site size of 50 acres


elementary = 10 acres

middle = 20 acres

high = 35 acres

plus another acre for every 100 students

Rules of the game: acreage

Have YOU seen a 50-acre walkable school and schoolyard?

signs of change
Signs of change
  • Gates Foundation - $1B over 5 years creating 1500 new small high schools
  • NYC – 60 new schools with 500 or fewer students – also Milwaukee, Raleigh, St Paul, others
  • KnowledgeWorks Foundation – Ohioans prefer smaller high schools by 7-1 margin (<400 vs. >1000)
  • Chicago study of five elementary schools
    • Currently: 50% drive, 38% walk or bike
    • Would prefer: 22% drive, 64% walk or bike
some solutions state policy
Some solutions: state policy
  • Pennsylvania eliminated the 2/3, 60% rule.
  • Maryland’s School Construction Program favors renovating versus constructing new schools.
  • New Jersey School Renaissance Zone Program uses schools to catalyze redevelopment.
  • Maine requires the Dept. of Ed. to consider whether its decisions promote sprawl.
some solutions state policy1
Some solutions: state policy

"Creating more neighborhood schools is one of the most important avenues for advancing quality of life in South Carolina. It makes sense from a learning standpoint, an economic standpoint and it makes sense if you want to have schools that are part of a community's fabric as opposed to part of its sprawl.“

- South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford (R), July 16, 2003

  • South Carolina eliminated acreage requirements in 2003
some solutions national help
Some solutions: national help
  • NTHP & SGA: Powerpoint online, outreach campaign
  • CEFPI: Revised guidelines published 2004
  • CEFPI & EPA: Forthcoming publication on community schools, benefits & case studies
what might work for you
What might work for you?
  • Waivers (but … you must seek special permission to do the right thing)
  • Partnerships like Safe Routes
  • Affecting community beliefs / local political pressure
  • Changing state/local policies
what else can you do
What else can you do?
  • Review your community’s school facility master plan.
    • Closure & consolidation
    • Repair, renovation, modernization
    • Expansion & new construction
  • Support the maintenance of your community’s school facilities.
for more information
For more information...
  • Contact us
    • 202-566-2842
  • Visit these smart web sites