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Modernization ahead for Defense Department schools

WASHINGTON (AFNS) -- A program to improve Defense Department schools and ensure 21st century learning environments for military children is set to begin in October, department officials said Aug. 12.

Officials from the Department of Defense Education Activity will address some $3.7 billion in construction and renovation needs worldwide over the next five years.

"We're ecstatic to have the resources we need to improve the conditions of our school facilities," said Russ Roberts, the chief logistician for the activity. "It's important for us that we can continue to deliver the quality education our military children deserve."

Of the department's 191 schools, 134 are considered below standard, he noted.

Improvements will include new heating and air conditioning systems, plumbing, ventilation, electrical and structural repairs.

Some schools will be replaced entirely, with new facilities constructed in their place, he said.

"We have a responsibility to create and maintain safe and secure education facilities to keep up with the education requirements," Mr. Roberts said. "The goal is to be good stewards of our facilities and keep them maintained to environments our students can learn."

According to a statement released by the activity Aug. 11, 70 percent of the activity's schools are below the Defense Department's quality standard.

The standards to which the schools are held were established in 2005, which has made it difficult for the officials to barter for needed funds, Mr. Roberts added.

"It was kind of an empty threat," he said, referring to requests to improve facilities. "There was no standard to put up against what we felt we needed. As soon as (the Defense Department) put that (standard) out, then it was pretty easy to see where we set in."

Most schools were deemed too old to meet department standards, Mr. Roberts said, which is why so many schools have such low quality ratings.

"Most of our schools were built in the 1970s or before, and cannot hold the technologies," he said.

Kevin Kelly, the activity's associate director for finance and business operations, said it's simply more cost-effective to replace the entire school, rather than try to modernize the existing facilities.

"We have schools that were built in the 1950s and '60s that weren't even built to be schools," Mr. Kelly said. "A lot of our schools have one electrical outlet in each room, and we can't put computers in the classrooms, because we're overloading our electrical systems."

Also, the department is going "green" with its schools.

Some of the newer schools, mainly overseas, Mr. Roberts said, have green roofs.

This has made heating and electrical systems much more efficient, he added.

All of the newly constructed schools will have similar plans, he said.

"Our whole design process and standards have focused on begin green and more ecology friendly," he said.

Despite the positive impact and benefits the program may have, Mr. Roberts said improving department schools does not stop when the program ends. The activity will continue to manage a school replacement and upgrade program.

"We have 191 schools, (and) we're taking care of about 134 of these," he said. "Some of our schools, we can get to an acceptable rating with just some major construction. But at some point, even those schools will need to be replaced."

But in the end, it's about ensuring the children receive a quality education, he added.

"It's all about the children," he said. "Their parents sacrifice so much for our nation, and we owe their children a quality education."

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