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Velazquez Bill Would Bring Green Rooftops to Public Schools

Velázquez Bill Would Bring Green Rooftops to Public Schools
July 24, 2020
Press Release

Washington, DC –If Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-NY) has her way, schools may become fertile ground for learning about the environment and sustainability. The New York Representative has authored a bill allocating federal resources for the adoption of green roofs at public elementary and secondary schools, known as the Public School Green Rooftop Program. The bill has the potential to open up a world of environmental and educational benefits for students and the broader community. The legislation would be especially beneficial to urban areas where access to green space is commonly limited.


“There is no better place to begin teaching our children about conservation than our public schools,” said Velázquez. “However, their education does not need to be confined to the classroom.  These roofs allow students to directly engage with sustainable practices and see for themselves the impact that environmentally conscious initiatives can have on their hometowns and neighborhoods.  By exposing them to these ideas early on in their education, we forge a path to a cleaner, healthier community.”


Under this program, the Department of Energy will implement a grant program for the installation and maintenance of green roof systems. Green roofs are a sustainable, durable method of improving a building’s carbon footprint, as well as a place where exploration by teachers and students of pressing environmental and agricultural issues can take root. Children living in urban areas will have the chance to see these practices firsthand, an opportunity they are not often afforded. The roofs, according to the EPA, provide a notable advantage to urban communities, where greenery is often hard to come by.


This bill follows a legacy of success in other states.  According to estimates from the Missouri educational system, green roofs can save a single school up to $41,587 a year in electricity costs alone.  These roofs will cut district energy and maintenance costs substantially.  A regularly maintained green roof has a longevity of forty years, as opposed to a standard roof’s ten to fifteen.  Additionally, the bill grants maintenance funding for up to four years after the installation of every roof.


Teaching outdoors may also confer an additional benefit: open air schoolrooms may mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus. In the 1900s, schools utilized an open-air classroom to prevent students from contracting tuberculosis. Today, this measure has seen support from elementary school teachers who fear that sending teachers and children back into school buildings may pose a danger.


“While we navigate this year’s public health crisis, we need to ensure that we take careful steps towards reopening, with safety as a priority,” asserted Velázquez. “Green rooftops can answer to the call for safer schooling: additional outdoor space provides an opportunity to increase social distancing and open air. This may be one of the ways we can continue to give children the education they need, safely.”


The bill has received resounding support, with endorsements from notable organizations such as National Resources Defense Council, UPROSE, The Nature Conservancy, New York City Audubon, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, Green Roof Researcher Alliance, Williamsburg Greenpoint Parents for our Public Schools (WAGPOPS), The HOPE Program, Sustainable South Bronx, The New School Urban Systems Labs, Alive Structures, New York Sun Works, Riverkeeper, Red Hook Rise, Voces Ciudadanas de Sunset Park, Red Hook Rise, New York League of Conservation Voters, Resilient Red Hook, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, NYC H20, the Gowanus Canal Conservancy, Brooklyn Grange, El Puente, Brooklyn Greenroof, Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, St. Nicks Alliance, New York Environmental Law & Justice Project, Environmental Justice Initiative, National Lawyers Guild -  Environmental Justice Committee and Brooklyn Community Board 6.


“This critical legislation will give other public schools, especially those communities historically overburdened by ecological discrimination, the opportunity to reduce their building's environmental footprint significantly and enhance learning opportunities as our green roof has demonstrated at P.S. 41 in Manhattan,” said Vicki Sando, STEM Teacher and Green Roof Founder of P.S. 41 in New York City.


“We at NYC Audubon and the Green Roof Researchers Alliance are thrilled about this legislation and would like to thank Congresswoman Velázquez for her commitment to the natural world. The Public School Green Rooftop Program will result in the growth of critical habitat for wildlife, make the US more resilient in the face of climate change, and provide our youth the opportunity to experience conservation and environmental science first hand,” said Dustin Partridge of the Green Roof Researchers Alliance and Molly Adams of New York City Audubon.


“Passage of this bill will provide exceptional green roof benefits to children, their parents, and teachers at a time when access to safe, green space is very important to communities, and the need to redress the racial injustices is greater than ever,” said Steven W. Peck, GRP, Founder and President, Green Roofs for Healthy Cities.


“The HOPE Program, with extensive experience building and maintaining green roofs through our social enterprise, fully supports the Public School Green Rooftop program. This initiative will provide cleaner air for children in schools and the surrounding communities; contribute to ambitious local sustainability goals; and has the potential to provide living wage employment opportunities to the communities most impacted by the current crisis. It's a win, win, win,” said Jennifer Mitchell, Executive Director of the HOPE Program.


“Voces Ciudadanas is grateful for Congresswoman Velázquez’s leadership in introducing ‘the Public School Green Rooftop Program’ bill and hopes that Congress passes this bill that prioritizes long-term green investments into our communities that are beneficial on so many fronts including encouraging multidisciplinary learning, facilitating meaningful parent involvement, providing opportunities for physical activity, and promoting healthy eating,” said Victoria Becerra-Quiroz of Voces Ciudadanas de Sunset Park.


The bill, H.R. 7693, has been referred to the House Committee on Education and Labor.

A pdf version of the bill can be found here.