Joint-use facilities improve parental engagement and graduation rates, planners say

Well-planned communities that include schools, parks, and grocery stores all within walking distance can raise graduation and college acceptance rates, a nationally recognized urban planner told a legislative panel on Tuesday.

Were spending more money on these individual silos than we can spend when we consolidate our resources, said Steven Bingler, founder of Concordia LLC, a New Orleans-based community planning and architectural firm.

Bingler gave the example of the Emeryville Center for Community Life, a novel project in Alameda County that would transform an existing school site into multi-use community center containing a K-12 school, a visual and performing arts center, and an indoor and outdoor recreation area.

It is a tremendous national model of how co-development can take place in a positive way, said Bingler. The cost will be actually less than if you developed these bodies independent of each other.

Planners hope to cover the $125 million cost of the Emeryville project through contributions from the citys Capital Improvement Program, local bond money, state school facilities bonds, and federal stimulus money.

The Senate committee on school facilities brought together city development and federal representatives from across the state to discuss development of sustainable communities to benefit schools.

State Superintendent Jack OConnell attended the hearing and took the opportunity to call for a new school bond to pay for an estimated $9.7 billion to modernize school facilities and $200 million for career technical education facilities projects.

We speak often about preparing our children for the future, but achieving this goal will only increase in difficulty if our kids continue to learn in schools of the past, OConnell said.

Redevelopment and urban architects said that just building schools, however, wasnt enough. Converging developments encourage community engagement on several levels, said panelists.

The positive benefits include increased outreach from local police and fire departments, a cutback on duplicative community services, and a general sense of local control that helps with child socialization, parental involvement, and a betterment of collective health.

Rob Verchick, deputy assistant administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said one major problem many states face is a lack of dialogue between local land use officials failing and school districts.

Another problem is minimum acreage standards, which causes housing developments and schools to be so far apart that students cannot walk or ride their bikes to school.

If you could solve the distance problem you could go a long way to solving the other problems, said Verchick.

OConnell also said joint-use facilities raise the tide on a communitys wellbeing as adults find ways to interact with a nearby school, children spend less time being shuffled around school, and property values go up.

I think we have to be smarter and more efficient on our limited tax dollars, he said. The schools can be the hub of the community and should be.

When homes are worth something, it relieves pressure on the state general fund for our school districts.

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