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Overview of Renovations for a Healthy School Environment

One of the most straightforward ways to create a healthy school environment is to improve everyday maintenance to keep school facilities clean and running smoothly and safely. This section addresses regular cleaning and pest management and helps schools assess and improve their operations and maintenance programs for their facilities.

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Why It's Important

  • School renovations have the potential to increase children’s exposure to harmful contaminants which can lead to serious health risks. 
  • Addressing the unique challenges and opportunities of school renovation proactively can help the school save money and support student performance. 
  • School environments play an important role in the health and academic success of children.  Children spend 90% of their time indoors and much of that time is spent in schools. 
  • During school renovations it’s important to be aware of important environmental hazards and know the best practices for healthy and sustainable schools.  It’s also an opportunity to evaluate hazardous material storage, integrate pest management by design, and incorporate green building practices.
  • Indoor environmental quality can be compromised during school renovations, potentially exposing building occupants to damaging hazardous airborne chemicals.  Common contaminants include asbestos, lead, mold, radon, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).  
  • Establishing good design plans to improve the school's efficiency is as important during renovation as it is during new building design.

What You Can Do

  • Schedule renovations when the least number of staff and students will be in the building.
  • Minimize the impact of off-gassing of new building materials and products by allowing extra time after renovation before the building is occupied again.
  • Establish an inclusive, transparent process for disseminating information and receiving feedback from school staff, students, and parents.
  • Conduct renovation activities outside of the school year, whenever possible.
  • Know where asbestos containing materials are. If the renovation project will disturb these materials, hire a licensed asbestos abatement professional to perform special abatement procedures before demolition or construction activities start.
  • Fix any moisture problems and maintain proper moisture control after renovations are completed.
  • If changes will be made to an HVAC system, plan ahead to ensure the post-renovation HVAC system adequately mitigates radon.
  • If plans call for expanding a school, verify that there are no potential sources of vapor intrusion nearby. If renovations are planned for an existing building with a vapor intrusion problem, incorporate mitigation methods into the renovation design or leave the current vapor intrusion mitigation system(s) in place.
  • Develop a chemical management program that addresses proper handling and disposal of chemicals and what to do if there is a spill or emergency. Clean out or relocate chemicals prior to renovation activities, if necessary.
  • Child-occupied facilities must follow the Lead Renovation, Repair, and Painting (RRP) Rule during renovations. Hire an EPA certified lead-safe contractor to perform any work that will disturb lead-based paint.
  • Know where polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB)-containing materials are. Testing of materials and obtaining EPA approval for removal, worker protection and management, and proper disposal may be needed.
  • Characterize construction and demolition debris to determine if it is hazardous waste. Follow all applicable regulations to contain and dispose of hazardous waste properly. For debris that is not hazardous waste, consider recycling or reuse.

EPA and Federal Partners

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National Organizations

  • Build New or Renovate?: Resource List by the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities offers an annotated list of links, books and journal articles on the process of assessing whether to renovate and modernize existing school buildings in need of repair or to construct new facilities.
  • Collaborative for High Performance Schools 
  • Older and Historic Schools Success Stories by the National Trust for Historic Preservation shares how architects, contractors and school administrators have overcome challenges in school rehabilitation to save historic neighborhood schools.
  • Model Policies for Preserving Historic Schools (PDF)(4pp, 400K, About PDFby the National Trust for Historic Preservation describes policies and practices that work when communities try to renovate or reuse old or historic schools. The document discusses issues such as building codes, feasibility studies and public participation.
  • School Renovation: Resource List by the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities offers an annotated list of links, books and journal articles on school modernization, including school-wide renovation planning, financing and project management.
  • School Superintendents Association Healthy Schools Environments
  • U.S. Green Building Council Chapter Green School Committees advocate for green-building policies, build local networks of allies, and raise awareness of LEED and green building practice through education, outreach and advocacy.

State Resources