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article imageAfter $60M stadium, Texas school now wants $32M 'bus barn' Special

By Lynn Herrmann     Dec 2, 2011 in World
Allen - Earlier this year, a Texas school district gave the green light on a $60M football stadium and now wants to build a $32M “bus barn” which opponents say would endanger the well-being of elementary school students next to the proposed site.
The latest controversy in Texas’ education saga is unfolding in Allen, a Dallas suburb, where school officials are following construction of a new $60M school stadium with the quest to build a new service center, at a cost projection of $32M, which would combine the transportation, facility and maintenance, distribution center, and food service departments all at one site.
Called a “bus barn” by the opposition, the new center is projected to save the school district a total annual estimated cost savings of $139,695, making the payback period 230 years.
Tim Carroll, with the Allen ISD Public Information Office could not provide this reporter “a specific link for the $140,000” in annual estimated savings, but Stopthebarn.org supplied one, the AISD Service Center presentation, with opposition concerns provided in red overlay.
Carroll adds the construction is part of a master plan approved several years ago.
Among AISD’s parameters for the proposed service center site were the following:
• Land availability
• Parcel size
• Willing seller at reasonable price
• Site access
• Ability to screen and minimize noise to surrounding homes and businesses
The presentation parameters provided to Digital Journal did not include health and safety issues for nearby school children and local residents.
Congress enacted the Energy Independence and Security Act in 2007 and among its provisions was a requirement the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) develop, with consultation from the Departments of Education and Health and Human Services, a set of model guidelines for school sitings.
Those school siting guidelines (pdf), while strictly voluntary, take into account such issues as children vulnerabilities from exposure to pollution or hazardous substances
in any case in which the potential for contamination at a potential school site exists.
Although Cheatham Elementary School in Allen already exists, and nearby is a Montessori school, AISD’s proposed service center would be Cheatham’s new neighbor.
Despite the EPA’s school siting guidelines’ reference to potential school sites, concerned citizens and parents note the bus barn and its presumably associated chemicals, compounds, contaminants and toxic substances would do exactly what the guidelines suggest should not happen, pose “risks to students, staff, parents and others.”
Allen ISD s current service center.
Allen ISD's current service center.
Stopthebarn.org/Facebook
Tom Chun, one of the concerned citizens and a school district parent, spoke with Digital Journal on Thursday, saying the noise, pollution and increased traffic congestion next to the elementary school and nearby neighborhoods is not being taken seriously by the school board.
“Yes, this is an emotional issue for many of us, but emotions aside, we have valid concerns which we feel are falling on deaf ears,” Chun noted.
Chun added the district has not included in the projected bus barn costs an estimated $47 million in destroyed property values of homes nearby, nor, more importantly, the long-term health impacts of elementary school children who would be exposed to diesel exhaust from hundreds of buses on a daily basis.
Asthma rates in the US have grown rapidly since the 1980s, with asthma being one of the leading chronic diseases among children. The prevalence of asthma is highest among urban children, where background ambient outdoor pollution is most heavily concentrated.
A 2002 Environment & Human Health (EHHI) study, Children’s Exposure to Diesel Exhaust on School Buses (pdf), found at the time that 600,000 school buses across the country transport some 24 million students to school each day. These school children, collectively, spend 3 billion hours on school buses annually.
The primary power for these buses is diesel fuel, a combination of very fine carbon particles and a toxic gas mixture, according to the study. Benzene, a major component of diesel fuel and exhaust, is a known human carcinogen. Federal governmental agencies have classified diesel exhaust as a likely human carcinogen.
In addition to the carbon particulates, diesel exhaust also contains 40 chemicals classified as “hazardous air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act.
Diesel exhaust can have adverse effects on children, causing respiratory illnesses such as asthma, bronchitis, and infections. Children’s airways, not fully developed, are smaller in diameter than their adult counterparts. Inflamed or constricted airways in children, due to allergies, asthma or infections, can make breathing more difficult by being exposed to diesel exhaust.
According to the study,
There is no known safe exposure to diesel exhaust for children, especially those with asthma or other chronic respiratory disease.
The EHHI report also exposed data about bus parking yards, finding that bus parking and maintenance facilities can create localized air pollution which far exceeds ambient outdoor levels recorded by state monitoring and stated pollution at these facilities
may routinely migrate to adjacent properties, as buses are left idling, or during periods of peak use--early mornings and afternoons. If vehicles are parked near schools, both outdoor and indoor school air quality may be diminished.
According to Stopthebarn.org, land is available just south of the school district’s current facility, but AISD counters by saying the proposed new facility would be “next to a warehouse in an established non-residential area.”
Photos of the “non-residential” area seen on Stopthebarn’s Facebook page clearly show a residential area directly across a street from the proposed bus barn site. Additionally, a Google Maps search of 1501 Hopewell Drive, Allen, Texas - where the school is located - shows a tract of vacant land directly across the street from the school which Carroll said offers a “better perspective on this.”
Carroll went on to note the project is not slated to be built until 2014, and “by then - their community will be ringed with 6-lane roads which opponents fail to mention. There is also a small private airfield to the north of the property we are looking at."
However, Chun told DJ the airfield property has already been purchased by an area home builder with plans to turn it into a neighborhood subdivision.
Stopthebarn.org has a growing petition with some 1,300 signatures opposed to the project, but Chun said the rumor mill is suggesting the bus barn is “a done deal.” According to AISD, the school board has “held a public meeting and also addressed the community’s public meeting once.”
The proposed service center, according Carroll, “it’s not a bus barn” he wrote in an email to DJ, is for a school district which now enrolls some 19,500 students.
Where will the money come from? Carroll said Allen is not “in the depths of a deep economic recession” and “building funds are supported by bond sales that are approved by voters.”
When asked about teacher layoffs in the school district, AISD’s Carroll replied, “There were no teacher layoffs or firings in Allen ISD last year related to the financial cuts in Texas,” a reference to state legislators slashing some $4B in public education funding under Gov. Rick Perry’s guidance as politicians tried balancing a $27 billion deficit.
Carroll added, “There are no teachers proposed to lose their jobs at the end of this current school year.”
More about save the district, service center, Elementary school, diesel exhaust, diesel exhaust fumes
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