After enduring over eight months of a novel virus, individuals and businesses alike are reimagining a life post-pandemic. While many businesses are coping with the short-term challenges by adding winter resistance outdoor spaces or plexiglass walls, other organizations are contemplating long-term changes as this pandemic continues to wear on.
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Alongside our social and work lives, our education system also continues to be upended. Schools are scrambling to meet the Center for Disease Control’s short-term solutions to minimize the spread of COVID-19 indoors to welcome students into their classrooms. Regardless of their adaptations, there have been multiple occasions when government regulations forced districts to turn to virtual learning, but classrooms won’t be kid-free forever.
“In-person schooling will return as normal in the not so distant future,” said Matt Miller, project development manager at Triangle Associates. “Facility improvements and enhancements are extremely important as we return to normal to get families back into our local public schools.”
As districts start to rethink how to address school openings, risk mitigation measures and public health regulations need to be considered within the school’s physical space. Still, before COVID-19, schools around the US were facing aging infrastructure issues, but the pandemic has brought more issues to light. In fact, according to a report by the Government Accounting Office, more than 40 percent of school districts need to update or replace their ventilation systems in at least half of their schools.
According to Miller, schools have also had to expand their drop-off and pick-up areas as more parents are opting to drive their kids to school instead of using the district bus system.
“In addition to providing students, teachers, and parents with safe and adequate facilities in schools, the pandemic has highlighted a need for infrastructure designed to keep individuals healthy,” said Miller. “More parents are opting to transport their children during this crazy time, and school districts are adapting.”
In Michigan, funding for school capital improvement projects is a local issue. Districts are required to get the majority of voters’ approval for tax millage increases to fund bond referendums. Through this, voters permit the district to take out a loan and then pay back that loan over an extended period of time, much like a family takes out a mortgage for their home.
While the pandemic has forced various discussions about the American education system, many remain optimistic about educational and infrastructural changes to come. Over the course of this pandemic, Triangle has helped six school districts secure the majority of votes to pass bond referendums, totaling nearly $236 million to fund their capital improvement projects.
“Families who have stayed loyal to their local public school appear to be more supportive than ever as they realize, even more than normal, the importance of kids being in school and experiencing the social interaction of schooling, extracurricular opportunities, athletics, performing arts, and improved outcomes of in-person learning,” said Miller.
While some issues might be fixed from a shift to in-person learning, other problems will persist, and the stakes for improving America’s school facilities are higher than ever. Without state support, it is still unclear whether schools will be able to address concerns in the short-term to get leery teachers, students, and families to return. In turn, a district’s ability to retain families in their community to have the tax base to address building issues in the long-term remains unclear.
“After watching facility issues go unresolved for years, it has left many teachers and their unions wary,” said Miller.
Additionally, many schools have had to defer maintenance due to the deep budget cuts to avoid teacher layoffs, which could cause trouble in the long run.
“Many schools across the country are in need, and ongoing deferred maintenance projects are beginning to compound,” said Miller. “We can do better to support our local school districts.”