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Business of Education: Facilities assistance

Facilities

Buildings can be designed and managed to enhance student and employee health, and some research links school facilities to student achievement.

It can be a daunting task, especially in districts without the resources to hire facilities planners and consultants, but help is available. The Education Facilities Clearinghouse (EFC) is a program funded by the U.S. Department of Education and administered through the George Washington University Graduate School of Education and Human Development. It provides support to school districts on facilities planning, finance, operations, maintenance, and health issues through its website, technical assistance, and training.

EFC Director Linda Lemasters has been working in education and facilities and school planning for more than 35 years. She recently spoke with ASBJ Editor-in-Chief Kathleen Vail about the services offered by EFC.

Why is school facilities planning so important?

There’s a preponderance of research that shows that facilities affect student health, behavior, and achievement. That is important to most school boards because they have a say in where a school is sited, its size, and its efficiency. The student aspect is likely the area we overlook the most—students being in a comfortable, advantageous place to learn.

What kind of assistance can you provide schools and districts?

We are here to provide technical assistance and training, to make sure the facility is high performing. We are the first go-to place for helping schools. We have experts who are working with us on many different areas of design, planning, construction, and school safety. If it’s not our area of expertise, we contract people to provide assistance. We will find the experts to assist the district. If, for example, we are working in Texas, we’ll try to bring in a Texas expert who knows the area and the challenges. Administrators and school boards really like that.

How much does it cost?

The services are free. People can’t get over that it’s free. Their federal taxpayer dollars pay, but there is no cost to the district, not for the experts, their travel, or room and board.

What types of districts come to oyu for help?

Sometimes they are low-income, and sometimes more affluent. In more affluent areas, they have their own architect and people, but not always, especially in safety and security areas. In lower-income areas, we see needs in science, art labs, and gymnasiums. How can we expect the same achievement results from them if they don’t have the same resources?

What are your goals?

One is to help education stakeholders to use facilities to turn around schools and ensure the facilities will at the very least not be a hindrance to instruction. We seek to increase the understanding of how facilities affect health and safety. Air quality affects student achievement. Asthma is a No. 1 childhood illness that we are facing across the states. Then we want districts to realize cost savings, and lastly, we want our facilities -- outdoor and indoor spaces -- to be the center of community.

For more information on the Education Facilities Clearinghouse, go to www.efc.gwu.edu.

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