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It’s Time to Focus on Our Schools

If you are a parent like me, I am sure you cherish your kids and seek to offer them the best opportunities in life. I even moved to a different school district. And, while the education is top-notch in my town, I have come to realize that it really doesn’t matter what school district you are in…all our schools need help. I am not talking about smaller class sizes, better pay for teachers, after-school programs, and more school supplies, although those are important. School buildings need attention. With budgetary pressures, a lot of maintenance and repairs are being deferred and schools are not aging well. Whether it is repairing existing systems, replacing systems at the end of their useful life, renovating, or building a brand-new school to service your community for future generations, advocate for your Board of Education (BoE) to think holistically about improving the conditions for our children.

Why My Call to Action?

This year I was asked to join our elementary school’s Tools for Schools committee, which is tasked with implementing an indoor air quality (IAQ) management plan. This experience gave me an opportunity to get involved and provided me insight into the school’s systems and the operations and maintenance (O&M) processes that were in place.

Unfortunately, at the start of the 2018 school year, mold issues were identified in our local middle school and the building was closed. In fairness, I quickly realized that buildings were outside the BoE members’ knowledge base. Afterall, they are educators, not facility managers or building scientists. They sought outside consultants but didn’t know the right questions to ask. After some time, the BoE decided to get input from local experts in the community. Fortunately, we have several experts (including me) who were willing to volunteer their time. As part of a task force, we laid out a strategy to remediate the mold issues in the school and to implement short- and long-term repairs to minimize/eliminate water incursion and elevated moisture issues within the building.

I am not saying you must get involved at this level, but I do encourage you to attend a BoE meeting and start asking questions related to IAQ. Ask if the school has deferred maintenance needs and if/when these are being addressed in the annual budget. Ask when (if) comprehensive physical needs assessments and energy audits were performed on all school buildings. Educate yourselves; then help educate your BoE and your community on IAQ guidelines for schools. Here are some great resources:

How Can SWA Help?

In working with schools, I have learned that one of the greatest challenges school decision-makers face is not knowing where to turn for support and guidance. Steven Winter Associates, Inc. (SWA) has been working to improve educational facilities for decades. Whether you have questions related to mold, moisture, comfort, absenteeism, accessibility, high utility bills…on up to zero energy design and progressive learning environments, SWA can support you. Here is just a sample of past school projects that SWA has worked on:

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Here’s What the Clean Energy DC Act Means for Existing Buildings in the District

Mayor signing legislationDistrict of Columbia Mayor, Muriel Bowser, signed a landmark piece of legislation known as the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Amendment Act this past Friday. With the mayor’s signing, Washington, DC becomes one of the first jurisdictions in the country with a binding, comprehensive law aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “It allows us to make significant improvements to the energy efficiency of existing buildings in the District,” Mayor Bowser said at the signing ceremony.

The new law has several sections which will impact the buildings in which DC residents and businesses live and work. In this post, we’re going to focus on Title III of the Clean Energy Omnibus Amendment Act, which is designed to make the city’s existing buildings more efficient.

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Bridgeport, CT – A Model for Resiliency

The pattern along the water’s edge in Bridgeport, Connecticut presents a familiar scene to New Englanders: active harbors and historic homes interspersed with blighted buildings and weathered infrastructure. The city’s architecture suggests a prosperous past and a difficult present. But this city—prone to acute and chronic flooding, and facing the ills of climate change and sea level rise—will not leave its future to chance. The City of Bridgeport has a plan to survive and even thrive in the next decades of environmental change, and may position itself as a national leader in resiliency.

Map of the study area showing proposed floor barriers and low impact development

Map of the study area showing proposed flood barriers and low impact development

In this context, “resiliency” refers to adaptation to the wide range of regional and localized impacts that are expected with a warming planet. Last fall, David Kooris, former Connecticut Director of Housing, visited SWA’s Norwalk office and presented Bridgeport’s vision: Resilient Bridgeport. The project began in 2014 when the City assembled a multidisciplinary design team, led by New Orleans-based Waggonner and Ball, to prepare an integrated resilience framework for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Rebuild by Design Competition. The following year, Connecticut was awarded a HUD grant of $10,000,000 to develop a plan for reducing flood risk, improving resilience for the South End and Black Rock Harbor areas, and building an ambitious pilot project in the South End that combines physical barriers and low impact development.

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Replacing Indian Point – An Update

Last year, we wrote about New York State’s plans for replacing the 2,000 megawatts of electricity provided by Indian Point. As of March 2018, Indian Point is still slated to close in April of 2021. The New York State Independent System Operator (NYISO) will reassess the plant’s retirement plan later this year and will continue reassessing this plan regularly to ensure that the state’s electricity needs are met. At the time of the initial closure announcement, the replacement plan leaned heavily on increasing transmission capacity to New York City, particularly via the proposed Champlain Hudson Power Express. However, there were still some gaps between downstate’s power requirements and the total power available without Indian Point.

Indian Point Image

In December 2017, NYISO released an Indian Point retirement assessment report and concluded that downstate’s power requirements will be met, providing that three proposed power plant projects in New York and New Jersey are completed on time. The CPV Valley Energy Center will be a 680 MW natural gas-fueled combined cycle plant in Wawayanda, NY, opening later this year. The Cricket Valley Energy Center will be a 1,100 MW natural gas-fueled power plant in Dover, NY, and is slated to begin power generation in 2020. An additional 120 MW of capacity will be added in Bayonne, NJ. As of the end of 2017, NYISO has determined that all three of these projects must come online by 2021 in order for the Indian Point shutdown to go through.

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Harvey and Irma: Hurricanes, Floods, and the Days After

They call it hurricane season. That time of year when tropical depressions form off the west coast of Africa somewhere north of the equator. The rotation of the earth and the prevailing winds cause these low-pressure pockets to migrate slowly westward, and if conditions are apt, pick up strength along the way.

As deadly and destructive as hurricane winds are, it is typically the associated water that causes the most physical damage: horizontal rain at 100 mph overwhelming already stressed buildings, prolonged periods of heavy rain inundating drainage infrastructure, and coastal storm surges pushing tidal waters many feet above normal.

Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma, a record Category 5 storm, is seen in this NOAA National Weather Service National Hurricane Center image from GOES-16 satellite taken on September 5, 2017. Courtesy NOAA National Weather Service National Hurricane Center/Handout via REUTERS

As of this writing Hurricane Irma is just north of Puerto Rico with Category 5, 185 mph winds. And Harvey, a rain event lasting days and dumping up to 50 inches of rain ravaged Texas and Louisiana one week ago. Because of where and how we chose to build our communities, these disaster events will remain inevitable. There are concrete steps we can and should take to improve the resiliency and disaster resistance of the buildings we build, but in reality, much of what we built in the past is disaster prone and not resilient. Read more