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Smart Growth and Schools

Over the next few decades, thousands of schools around the country will be built and renovated. Where and how schools are built will profoundly affect the communities they serve and the quality of their air and water. While a first-rate education in a safe facility must always be the primary consideration when making school spending decisions, a growing number of communities are using these investments to meet multiple goals -- educational, health, environmental, economic, social, and fiscal.

Many communities that are reevaluating their growth patterns are also assessing how and where they spend their education dollars. Investments in schools both respond to and influence growth. Although challenging, the boom in school construction offers an unprecedented opportunity to improve the quality of schools and communities together, by applying the principles of smart growth to educational facility planning. Smart growth development:

Educators who support community-centered schools share many of these principles. A school that is safe and easy for students, teachers, parents, and other community members to reach on foot or by bicycle helps reduce the air pollution from automobile use, protecting children's health. Building schools compactly and in the neighborhoods they serve minimizes the amount of paved surface they create, which can help protect water quality by reducing polluted runoff.

EPA Resources

Schools for Successful Communities

Youth Travel to School: Community Design Relationships with Mode Choice, Vehicle Emissions, and Healthy Body Weight
This study used data on a large sample of youth ages 5 through 18 years in Atlanta, Georgia, to examine if and how a variety of factors influence school travel. Factors examined in the study include parental perception of neighborhood safety from crime and traffic, and neighborhood design around the home, the route to school, and the school. The study also examined air pollutants and CO2 emissions generated from school trips.

Schools for Successful Communities: An Element of Smart Growth (PDF) (54 pp, 2.1MB, About PDF)
Council of Educational Facility Planners International and U.S. EPA, September 2004. EPA-231-R-04-003.
This publication explains why and how communities can employ smart growth planning principles to build schools that better serve and support students, staff, parents, and the entire community. Each community should use its education dollars to fulfill academic considerations and to express the values and vision of the community. When school districts collaborate with community leaders to find a location for a school, the community benefits socially, environmentally, and economically. This publication helps communities invest in schools that will give children the best possible education, use taxpayer dollars wisely, and improve the quality of life for all citizens.

Travel and Environmental Implications of School Siting Cover page

Travel and Environmental Implications of School Siting, U.S. EPA, October 2003. EPA-231-R-03-004.
This study provides important information about how the location of a school affects how its students get to it. It shows that school siting and design can influence traffic congestion, air pollution, school transportation budgets, and children's health and obesity. This research provides a basis for making sound school investment decisions that will lead to the kind of high-quality schools and neighborhoods we all desire.

For more information on the EPA's resources to help address and resolve environmental issues in schools, including information on chemical use, design and construction, indoor air quality, waste reduction, drinking water, energy efficiency, environmental education, and many other topics, please visit the EPA Schools Web site.

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Other Publications

"Build Smart" (PDF) (4 pp, 561K About PDF) Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, Barbara McCann and Constance Beaumont, American School Board Journal, October 2003

Creating Communities of Learning: Schools and Smart Growth (PDF) (58 pp, 3MB About PDF) Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, Ellen Shoshkes, Ph.D., Education Law Center, April 2004

Dollars and Sense: The Cost Effectiveness of Small Schools (PDF) (44 pp, 291K About PDF) Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, Barbara Kent Lawrence et al., KnowledgeWorks Foundation, 2002

"Edge-ucation" Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, Rob Gurwitt, Governing, March 2004

Education and Smart Growth: Reversing School Sprawl for Better Schools and Communities (Translation Paper #8) (PDF) (12 pp, 528K About PDF) Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, Sam Passmore, Funders Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, March 2002

Hard Lessons: Causes and Consequences of Michigan's School Construction Boom (PDF) (20pp, 2.8MB About PDF) Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, Mac McClelland and Keith Schneider, Michigan Land Use Institute, February 2004

Local Governments and Schools: A Community-Oriented Approach Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, ICMA and Smart Growth Network, 2008.

Public Schools and Economic Development: What the Research Shows (PDF) (48 pp, 431K About PDF) Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, Jonathan D. Weiss, KnowledgeWorks Foundation, 2004

Public Schools: A Toolkit for Realtors® Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, Carol Everett, Karen Lee Ryan, and Stephen Smith, National Association of Realtors®, 2005

School Buildings and Community Building (PDF) (6 pp, 645K About PDF), Tim Torma, EPA, in The Commissioner, American Planning Association, 2007

Schools as Centers of Community: A Citizen's Guide for Planning and Design Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, Steven Bingler, Linda Quinn, and Kevin Sullivan, National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, KnowledgeWorks Foundation, Building Educational Success Together, Council of Educational Facility Planners International, Coalition for Community Schools, October 2003

Schools, Community and Development: Erasing the Boundaries (PDF) (39 pp, 299K About PDF) Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, Tony Proscio, The Enterprise Foundation, 2004

"Smart Growth for Better Schools," On Common Ground Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer , Winter 2005

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Presentations

Webinar Series: Expanding the School Siting Conversation Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, presentations by EPA, the National Center for Safe Routes to School, the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center to Prevent Childhood Obesity, February 2011. Topics include "Location, Location, Location: New Guidance for Locating Schools in a Healthy, Sustainable Way," "State Strategies for School Siting; Locating Schools for Better Health, Environmental, and Fiscal Outcomes," "School Siting – Advancing Environmental Justice and Preservation Through School Siting," and "A Live Chat on School Siting and Community-Centered Schools." Learn more about federal school siting guidelines discussed during the webinars.

Video Presentation: School Buildings and Community Building Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, presentation by Tim Torma, EPA's Development, Community, and Environment Division, at the 3rd Annual Safe Routes to School State Coordinators National Meeting, May 13, 2008. Please note: This session requires the free Adobe Flash Player Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer and begins playing automatically.

School Siting: The Elephant in the Living Room? (PDF)

"The State of Schools" (PDF) (150 pp, 21MB, About PDF) Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, presentation by Richard Baron, Chairman and CEO, McCormack Baron Salazar, New Partners for Smart Growth Conference, January 28, 2005

"Smart Schools and Smart Growth" (PDF) (45 pp, 7MB, About PDF) Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, presentation by Tim Torma, Policy Analyst, U.S. EPA, New Partners for Smart Growth Conference, January 28, 2005

"The Action Plan for Smart Growth and Public Health: We Owe it to Our Kids!" (PDF) (137 pp, 20.3MB, About PDF) Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer, presentation by Dr. Howard Frumkin, Professor and Chair, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Rollins School of Public Health of Emory University, New Partners for Smart Growth Conference, January 29, 2005

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Organizations

Coalition for Community Schools Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer

Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI) Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer

DesignShare Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer

KnowledgeWorks Foundation Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer

National Association of State Boards of Education, Safe and Healthy Schools project Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer

National Center for Safe Routes to School Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer

National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer

National Trust for Historic Preservation's Community-Centered Schools Initiative Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer

New Schools, Better Neighborhoods Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer

Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer

Rural School and Community Trust Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer

Small Schools Workshop Link to EPA's External Link Disclaimer

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