Originally published in The Philadelphia Tribune.
By Michael D’Onofrio
As Philadelphia schools closed early three days in the first week because temperatures reached the 90s and many did not have central air conditioning, a piece of legislation sits in Congress that could spur much-needed rehabilitation of aging buildings in the district and across the nation.
The bill, Rehabilitation of Historic Schools Act of 2017, aims to allow funds spent on rehabilitating school buildings to qualify for tax credits.
U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-2, who introduced the legislation, said the bill would amend existing legislation that provides tax credits for rehabilitation of qualifying historic structures to include public schools and some private, for-profit schools.
“I’m making public schools eligible to take advantage of the tax credit, that’s what I’m trying to do,” Evans said. “I want to fix these buildings. I want to get air conditioning. I want to modernize the buildings.”
The School District of Philadelphia could use any help it can get when it comes to rehabilitating its facilities. It faces a $4.5 billion backlog of needed repairs, according to a 2017 assessment report. A new reassessment of all district facilities remains ongoing.
District spokesman H. Lee Whack said the district welcomes “initiatives that would allow us to modernize our buildings so that students have the great learning environments they deserve.”
The installation of heating and air-conditioning systems (HVAC) remains a priority for the district, Whack said. During the summer, the district worked on HVAC systems at a few schools, which included the installation of a new system at Munoz-Marin Elementary School in North Philadelphia.
“When you keep buildings in the right conditions, you can avoid other problems,” Whack said.
However, only 27 percent of district schools have central air conditioning.
And when a midweek heat wave brought temperatures in the 90s and humidity that made it feel like triple digits, the district was forced to let students out at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Scheduled professional development for staff on Friday also will close schools early.
Evans said he intended his bill not only to encourage schools districts to make needed repairs, including installing air conditioning, but create jobs for the building tradesmen who would do the work. But more than a year after Evans introduced the bill, it continues to languish in the House Committee on Ways and Means.
Evans said the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has stymied the bill.