PHOTO CREDIT: NATIONAL COUNCIL ON SCHOOL FACILITIES
Mike Pickens joined the National Council on School Facilities (NCSF) as executive director in 2021 after nearly 20 years at the West Virginia Department of Education, leading in facilities and transportation. NCSF is a nonprofit organization that represents state public school facilities officials, advocating for public school buildings that are physically sound, sustainable, and conducive to learning. The organization encourages federal investments and assistance to build state capacity and support high-need districts, a mission directly related to improving education, health, and the school environment, Pickens said. He spoke to ASBJ intern Bella Czajkowski about failing building systems and related issues, and how the council strives to foster healthy learning environments.
(This interview was edited for length and clarity. A video of the interview follows below.)
In addition to funding, what are some other facilities challenges across the country?
The age and neglect of major building systems are taking a toll. In 2020, the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that 41 percent of districts required HVAC systems upgrades or replacements in at least half of their schools. Twenty to 35 percent of all school districts had serious deficiencies in at least half of their roofing, lighting, or safety and security systems. COVID-19 has recently elevated the condition of public-school facilities into the national consciousness. School buildings with poor ventilation and air quality present special risks in the face of a highly contagious airborne virus. Poor indoor air quality has been a barrier to restoring full confidence in returning to in-person schooling. Strategic facilities planning and management could reduce the annual need for capital investment. But this progress against our growing deficit will not happen without systemic policy changes.
What are some short-term and long-term strategies facilities leaders are adopting and finding success with?
We’re working to provide a framework for school systems to invest in a preventive maintenance program. We also provide energy management technical assistance, including an energy strategy for new and modernized facilities that could save on the cost of utilities. It’s also important to help legislators understand the importance of indoor environments on development and education to receive funding.
How can leaders proceed given the impact of staffing shortages, supply chain availability, and inflation?
No matter how good the curriculum, the teachers, or administrators, we can’t achieve world-class education with crumbling school facilities. Every national, state, and local policymaker should accept the challenges and work through the issues to overcome outside deterrence that affects the health and education of students, teachers, staff, and our communities.
What are some of the topics on the agenda for your annual meeting in November?
Topics may include educating state members on new and advanced school building components that will reduce indoor environmental issues as well as a framework to improve the preventive maintenance culture in our state school systems.