National Science Foundation Supports Virginia Tech Engineer in Improving School Infrastructure

June 30, 2009

Growing concern over the possible indoor pollution that the nation’s 53 million school children can be exposed to for several hours per day in the country’s 135,000 schools, including asbestos, lead, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), radon, pesticides, and biological agents such as fungi and bacteria, has led the National Science Foundation (NSF) to award Deborah Young-Corbett a $174,275 grant to help provide a better way to manage the health of the public school infrastructure.

Young-Corbett is an assistant professor who directs the Occupational and Construction Hazard Reduction Engineering Laboratory, part of Virginia Tech’s Myers-Lawson School of Construction and the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Virginia Tech. She is certified as an industrial hygienist, a safety professional, and a hazardous materials manager.

“As with the bulk of the national civil infrastructure, the public school infrastructure is at risk of deterioration and in need of systematic condition management,” says Young-Corbett.

She points to a study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES) that cites approximately 25 percent of the nation’s schools, which house approximately 11 million school children, as in need of “extensive repair.” Additionally, nearly 40 percent of public school buildings reported unsatisfactory environmental conditions.

“Building condition maintenance and management practices are correlated with the health of the indoor environment,” says Young-Corbett. “Given the constrained financial resources facing our national educational system, school decision-makers are in need of systematic methods of evaluating risks associated with facility condition and prioritizing maintenance activities.”

Young-Corbett will use the NSF grant, under the agency’s Broadening Participation Research Initiation Grants in Engineering (BRIGE) program, to develop a strategy for use by school officials, including a facilities management optimization model and guidelines.

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