Poor air quality highlights repair needs in Boston schools

Poor air quality highlights repair needs in Boston schools

(Mass.) Almost three-quarters of elementary and middle schools in Boston have deficient or poor ventilation, according to new city report released last week.

The findings also show that many school buildings are in need of new roofs or other major repairs. Leaky roofs may cause mold, for instance, while poor circulation can make classrooms humid and stuffy. Both can impede student learning or even trigger an asthma attack.

“Although learning can and does occur anywhere, the fact is, buildings matter,” authors of the city report wrote. “The environments in which teaching and learning take place contribute to the overall performance of students. Most of the 134 school buildings in the Boston Public Schools system are old—older than the average across the Commonwealth.

“As such, many roofs, windows, heating, and other critical systems are deficient or severely inefficient,” authors wrote. “Simply put, great school buildings add value and enhance the learning experience.”

A U.S. Department of Education survey released in 2011 estimated that 14 million students attended schools in need of repairs that lead to unhealthy environmental conditions, including inadequate ventilation, broken heating and cooling systems, peeling paint, crumbling plaster, poor lighting and nonfunctioning toilets.

Other studies compiled by the Education Department link children’s ability to learn to the condition of their classroom environment. Things like poor air quality, wobbly desks or black mold in ceilings can negatively affect a student’s ability to concentrate.

Poor working conditions have also been shown to result in higher absenteeism of teachers, as well as low morale, reduced job satisfaction, lower effectiveness in the classroom and reduced levels of effort.

The latest report on Boston schools looked at issues regarding heating, ventilation and plumbing systems, structural damage, drainage, accessibility, air and lighting quality, roofs and windows, as well as how effectively space was contributing to the learning environment.

Authors found that three of the city’s six early learning centers had good or excellent heating, ventilation and plumbing systems, and were in good structural condition–but also noted those were the three most recently built.

In 69 percent of K-5 schools, classrooms were found to have poor ventilation, and only 21 percent had good or excellent building conditions or heating, plumbing and ventilation.

Strangely, 64 percent of K-8 campuses were determined to have good or excellent structures and systems for plumbing, heating and ventilation, but 61 percent were also found to have poor ventilation in classrooms.

Middle schools arguably had the worst conditions; 71 percent had poor ventilation and 42 percent had poor air and light quality, and classrooms were often unable to support the use of educational technology.

And while ventilation was better in the city’s high schools–only 44 percent were ranked as poor in this area–more than 60 percent lacked a dedicated art or music room, and 50 percent did not have a dedicated library or media center.

In January, Boston mayor Martin Walsh announced a pledge of $1 billion over the next 10 years to overhaul school buildings, which he said have been deteriorating for quite some time.

Walsh noted in the report’s executive summary that more than half of the public schools in Boston were built before World War II, but fewer than half of those have been fully renovated.

“In that time, we built an elevated expressway, tore it down, and buried it in a tunnel downtown,” Walsh said. “We should be able to build great schools. They are our ultimate investment in the future.”