Hughes, Fiedler unveil plan to repair hazardous, toxic public schools across Pa.
HARRISBURG, Feb. 12 – State Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Phila./Montgomery) and Rep. Elizabeth Fiedler (D-Phila.) unveiled two proposals that would address toxic, unsafe conditions in public schools across the commonwealth. The two said that concern about school conditions, including ventilation, is not new. However, air quality concerns require even more attention and immediate action amid the COVID-19 pandemic and potential return to schools.
The first proposal would expand the Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program to help address health hazards in public school buildings across Pennsylvania, which Gov. Tom Wolf put forth as a top priority in his 2021-22 budget address. The second proposal would create the Public School Building Emergency Repair and Renovation Grant program, which would distribute grants to public schools for emergency repairs, including lead and asbestos abatement or remediation, HVAC repair or replacement, electrical system repair or replacement, plumbing repair or replacement, roof and window repair or replacement and other repairs or replacements that present a health or safety issue. This proposal would rely on federal funding provided through the American Rescue Plan.
“Pennsylvania’s legislature cannot defer addressing our public-school infrastructure problems any longer,” Hughes said. “The lives and long-term health of our children, teachers and school staff are put in danger through the time they spend in unsafe buildings every day. I am hopeful that my colleagues in the legislature will respond to the moral challenge presented by Governor Wolf, on behalf of communities across the commonwealth, and invest in our schools and the future of our education system.”
Pennsylvania has some of the oldest school buildings in the nation. Most school buildings were constructed between 1950 and 1959. More than 200 buildings were constructed prior to 1950. The aging buildings pose many health hazards, including lead in the drinking water; asbestos in cracked floor tiles; mold outbreaks in classrooms; broken boilers in the winter; and no air conditioning in the summer.
“For generations, our educators, students and school staff have been sent into buildings where they could get brain damage because of chipped paint or cancer because of exposed asbestos,” Fiedler said. “To call this appalling is an understatement. Our school buildings were hazardous long before the pandemic hit. As we seek to make schools safe places, now is the perfect time to invest in our public buildings and in the jobs that work will bring right in our communities!”
Though Philadelphia has been the focal point of the issue, other public schools across Pennsylvania report similar ventilation problems, often in poor school districts without the means to address major capital improvements. Allentown, Scranton, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and many other cities and towns across Pennsylvania, have struggled with asbestos, lead and other toxins in their public school buildings.
In 2018, the Public School Building Construction And Reconstruction Advisory Committee released the PlanCon final report estimating a need of $4.5 billion to repair Pennsylvania schools. The legislature has not funded programs to address the facilities’ issues raised in the PlanCon report. Conditions in many districts have worsened, and become more costly, as a result of inaction.
For more on the situation in Pennsylvania schools, visit senatorhughes.com/toxicschools.