School construction projects present special challenges and must be carefully managed to ensure that environmental issues are safely and well-handled and the health and safety of the school population is protected. New construction and on-site renovation projects each pose unique circumstances that must be given due consideration.
The universe of potentially problematic situations is large and often issues are not identified until construction has begun. As in all construction and renovation projects, it is important to consider potential environmental issues as part of the initial decision-making process. Due diligence is a critical first step to make certain that informed decisions are made and planning takes into account all known variables. Due diligence can serve to optimize resources, establish that an adequate project team is formed, establish responsibilities, maximize accountability, and achieve requisite transparency and community satisfaction benchmarks. Adequate due diligence also allows complete bid documents and final contracts to be prepared and awarded. Most importantly, due diligence is critical to building safe sustainable schools for this and future generations.
Connecticut school districts that use state funds in construction projects must work hand-in-hand with the State Department of Administrative Services (DAS) Division of Construction Services. DAS has a formal site school approval process that must be followed if seeking reimbursement from the state for new construction (even if an acquisition grant is not required.)
The first component of this process is to assess whether the project would directly or indirectly impact environmental resources, including floodplains, inland wetlands, protected species populations, critical habitats, coastal resources, and protected, historic and conservation areas.
Additional information including phase I, II and III reports must be submitted, as well. A phase I report considers all available information to determine the location of any possible releases of potentially hazardous materials. A phase II report contains data which confirms or negates the potential release areas identified in the Phase I and a phase III report delineates the vertical and horizontal dimensions of any release areas and is the basis for any remedial activities which must occur.
Ultimately, site choices are vetted in an effort to make sure building projects are well-situated and resources are not directed at unanticipated remedial projects.
School renovation projects that must occur in occupied buildings present their own universe of concerns. The Connecticut Department of Public Health and the federal Environmental Protection Agency have resources available on their websites addressing projects occurring in occupied buildings. These include guidelines to create a comprehensive management plan to minimize or eliminate exposure of building occupants to indoor air pollutants, noise, odors and other construction-generated contaminants. Such plans should contain detailed information for responsibilities, accountability, activity preferences, communication protocols and special protective methodologies. A third party monitor who reports to the District on the implementation of the plan is recommended. Ideally, this person will be an industrial hygienist or have other environmental and construction expertise.
With good planning, communication and follow-up, school construction projects can be well- managed to the satisfaction of all stakeholders. The State of Connecticut and the Federal Environmental Protection Agency have many resources available as do other consortiums and endeavors concerned with these issues.