The average school building is 42 years old with 28% built before 1950 and 45% built between 1950 and 1969.[1] Some have had renovations, but many haven’t.

These schools were built before the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 guaranteeing equal access, before the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) of 2004 ensuring services to children, before Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which is a voluntary but important program for green building design and operations—and well before Universal Design was formalized in the 1990s. Building codes have also been strengthened and refined since these schools were erected.

According to the 21st Century School Fund, school districts have approximately $271 billion worth of deferred maintenance.[2] Once a school is renovated or a new school is built and a good maintenance program is followed, that school will not need major renovations for 20 to 30 years.

Does it matter for our children and their teachers’ health?

Surveys indicate that teachers and school nurses report missed days of school for themselves and for students due to poor indoor air quality. Last year, a CNN report stated that “a third or more of U.S. schools have mold, dust and other indoor air problems serious enough to provoke respiratory issues like asthma in students and teachers.”[3] These issues are even more significant for children with health issues associated with autism and other diagnoses. If a student is not feeling well and misses many days of school, learning and quality of life in general are going to suffer. Teacher retention may decline as well.

Does it matter for learning and the quality of our school experience?

We all remember wonderful teachers and learning experiences (both good and not-so-good!) that shaped who we are today. At the time, the facility seemed irrelevant. We can have great learning experiences just about anywhere; however, we now know more about how the brain works and how we learn. The world has changed—so should our schools.

Consider just one factor: indoor air quality. Research indicates that “[c]hildren in classrooms with higher outdoor air ventilation rates tend to achieve higher scores on standardized tests in math and reading than children in poorly ventilated classrooms.”[4]

We are gaining even more knowledge about the influence of the physical environment for all types of learners, both those on and off of the autism spectrum. The answer is to strategically and thoughtfully renovate the solid facilities that having been serving students for decades. Some may be deemed beyond repair and replacement is the answer. Funding is an issue, but these buildings are a significant issue for our children’s health and education.

We ARE shaped by our physical environment.

[1] National Institute of Building Sciences. “School Building Statistics.” National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities. 2012. <> (10 November 2012).

[2] 21st Century School Fund. “PK-12 Public School Facility Infrastructure Fact Sheet.” Building Educational Success Together. February 2011. <> (10 November 2012).

[3] Martin, David S. “Are schools making kids sick?” CNN. 14 January 2012. <> (10 November 2012).

[4] United State Environmental Protection Agency. “Improved Academic Performance: Evidence from Scientific Literature.” IAQ Tools for Schools. 5 April 2012. <>  (10 November 2012).


Baker, Lindsay and Harvey Bernstein. McGraw-Hill Research Foundation. “The Impact of School Buildings on Student health and Performance: A Call for Research.” Green Schools White Paper. 27 February 2012. <> (10 November 2012).

National Institute of Building Sciences. “School Building Statistics.” National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities. 2012. <> (10 November 2012).