November 19, 2003 - From the November, 2003 issue

State Architect Effectively Advocates For Sustainable Design

With the billions of dollars being directed towards school construction in California, and particularly in Los Angeles, the need to examine and analyze the most efficient application of building standards for public school facilities has never been more significant. More and more information is being gathered on how the built environment impacts how students learn and perform. TPR is pleased to present this interview with Stephen Castellanos, the California State Architect, in which he addresses the impact of the built environment on students and neighborhoods. Castellanos also addresses the state's aggressive sustainability agenda for public buildings.


Stephan Castellanos

Stephen, from your vantage point as state architect, what's at stake as the governorship changes hands? What under your domain needs to be maintained, enhanced and addressed by the new governor's team and administration?

We've spent a lot of time in the last few years focusing on the total environment for school children in California. We've been trying to move the Field Act beyond the notion that many people have of it, as a seismic safety provision, to being one that is about defining the kinds of environments that can enhance learning. We're promoting the idea that facilities themselves should be learning tools. We're hopeful that we can continue that agenda, and that we can continue our movement to create stronger partnerships between the state architect and school districts. We see school districts as partners in delivering safe, sustainable and effective learning environments. So the next step would be to expand these partnership efforts beyond our pilot programs (in San Diego and Los Angeles) to include all school districts in the state.

When we last did an interview with you in April, you said that the state architect's office, was "looking at our basic building standards and regulations in California to see what can and should be included to define a base expectation-a minimum set of standards for sustainability and excellence. In the short time that I've been here I think we are seeing some success and real movement in the right direction." Six months later, give us an update.

Buildings in California are built according to the safety standards contained in the California building code. Those standards are defined as health, safety and welfare standards. These are certainly important, but so much more needs to be done in order to make sure that we understand what should be required in all schools in California to ensure the best student and teacher performance-air quality, light standards, day lighting, acoustics, energy efficiency, and comfort. I believe that there is a need to develop statewide standards in these areas. My office is continuing to move towards setting minimum standards that can provide a benefit to learning environments. Currently, we're focusing a great deal on sustainability. As we now know, healthy environments and healthy children go hand in hand with effective learning.

The Los Angeles County health director recently noted that the largest epidemic among children in Southern California is diabetes and obesity in Hispanic youth. What in the minimum standards would ensure that local school officials building new schools must take into account the health risks that are afflicting their students?

This is a really important issue today, for school children in particular. But it's a bigger issue that my office can answer, because we are talking about community-wide issues that we all need to be concerned about for each and every citizen. Certainly children, being the most at risk population, and being defined as our future in California, need the first level of attention. Programs, like the Department of Education's effort to develop safe walking paths to schools, open space requirements, and physical education are all part of a solution. But overall, better community planning is needed

Steve, you assumed the position of state architect and immediately grappled with the shortfall challenges facing LAUSD facilities. Mayor Riordan, now Secretary of Education for the new governor, was then Mayor of L.A.. Elaborate on what you learned in working with a metropolis like LA, and how you helped encourage better facilities design criteria and a more workable and timely approval and review process for new construction projects?

It was pretty evident to me that LA needed as much support and assistance as the state could deliver in building safe and healthy school facilities, something that it seemed incapable of doing effectively for a number of years. We forged a very significant partnership with Jim McConnell and his staff. And, Governor Romer has been a tremendous supporter of this. Now, as Los Angeles Unified will be moving to the next stage of its program, and our staffs have come much closer together, we are learning a great deal from each other about what our individual and joint responsibilities are.

We've hired a supervisor in our office and assigned a staff member to serve Los Angeles Unified's needs. Because of the size of the program it represents, it is important for them to be successful. They educate more children than any school district in the state of California. The urban issues are one thing-we've passed regulations, for example, that allow LAUSD, among other schools districts in the state, to convert existing local buildings into schools. We've worked more closely with the charter movement since I've come into office, particularly now because charters have access to state money for facilities, and it was important for us to have charter schools see the DSA as a resource and not an obstacle.

In every respect, we've tried to convert DSA from an enforcement agency to an agency that sees school districts as partners, and where we can consult and support their goals to build facilities. The staff here helped make the first phase of LA Unified's program a success by making sure that all of their plans were approved and sent on for funding on time and on schedule. In this next phase we're hopeful that we'll do even better in continuing to support LA Unified. Beyond that, we're also gratified to see that LA Unified is focusing on quality design, sustainability, healthy environments, and understanding neighborhood context.

We're spending about $100 billion in California this decade on new schools and modernization and yet there is still no formal requirement to share best practices with districts around the state. How would you make the case to Gov. Schwarzenegger that his attention should be given to this matter?

When you're talking about a $100 billion program, there's too much at risk not to share best practices information. These schools will change the face of our communities for generation to come. This is one of the largest, if not the largest, capital programs ever embarked on in this country, and it does have significant community impact. Assuring that facilities support learning is an exercise that requires us to share information on a very formal basis. A $100 billion program should be accompanied with institutions, or programs that are all about asking the right questions, developing the right data, analyzing that data, and then pushing it back out so that school districts, school district officials, board members, architects, engineers, contractors, and all of us who are involved in this very difficult effort understand two things. One, how can we do it at the lowest possible cost, because that continues to be an important consideration. We also have to maintain and assure that we understand what the right level of quality is. I know that there are examples of success across this country and throughout California, and those examples are what we need to learn from.

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To better leverage voter approved state & local park bonds and library bonds, health care and after-school and adult programs funds, Robert Hertzberg, formerly speaker of the Assembly, championed a $25 billion state school facilities bond, half of which is on the ballot next May, which includes $100 million of joint-use funding. Unfortunately, the first $50 million of that money has not really been accessed by school districts. In fact, LAUSD never even applied. Explain the chasm here between opportunity and vision and how districts might be encouraged to realize the leveraging opportunities made possible by the availablity of joint-use dollars?

This issue is incredibly complex. I'm not an expert by any means in all of the fiscal structures that exists for agencies throughout California. But, it's very clear to me, and to many others, that the fiscal structures that are a part of all these agencies we're asking to come together, are all quite different-sometimes to the point where it's difficult for them to collaborate or cooperate. I don't think there is an unwillingness to do it, but delivering public facilities is already very difficult, and we're asking folks to layer on another potential difficulty. We have to consider what we can do to encourage the leveraging of these dollars.

The notion of joint-use is too important to lose. We're at an age now where public resources are being challenged all the time. There isn't enough money to do everything we need to have done. Learning is obviously important to children, but it is also important to involve the community in their future. Beyond the idea of productivity and sharing costs and reducing costs, the idea of finding mechanisms that also can connect the community more fundamentally to the future of children and the success of their schools is too important to give up on. We have to continue to work on the political and economic structures that might prevent joint-use from being a success.

Obviously, school districts up and down the state soon will be placing facilities bonds on the March ‘04 ballot to match, if it passes, state school bond dollars. Ought there be some inclusion of joint-use in local school bonds to match state funds available in the bond fund? Or, is that just too hard to grapple with?

I don't know how hard it is to grapple with. I would encourage school districts to find opportunities to leverage their scarce dollars and match them with other organizations to hopefully deliver better facilities all the way around, not only for the school but for the community. There has to be community will, of course. These are local decisions and the will has to be there. But, I'd be hopeful that the communities themselves can see opportunities and the school districts can see opportunities in working with their communities to find some success in joint-use opportunities.

Even if there are successful and citable school facilities collaborations involving joint/share use in the state, what might the state architect's office do, in partnership with the Department of Education, to ensure that new and modernized school campuses offer opportunities for after-school programs, adult education and universal pre-K going forward?

We've had an opportunity to forge a great partnership with the California Department of Education over the last several years. We're continuing to explore how we assure that schools meet community needs. The idea that schools serve a greater need than the 8-to-3 educational purpose has been realized for quite some time. The governor-elect, in his support of after school programs, builds on a long history of desiring to make school facilities themselves greater resources in the communities and the neighborhoods that they serve. Joint-use is a part of it, there's certainly no doubt about that. Where we find opportunities to assure the success of after-school programs, we will do that, either by the adoption of regulations, or the development of new policies and guidelines.

Lastly Stephen, your office not only works with schools, you've been a leader in the sustainability agenda for the state of California and its buildings. Can you chronicle the successes and what remains on your agenda there?

A lot remains, but we have changed the objective of the state now around this notion of sustainability. Californians been perceived as a leader in this area because of the state's involvement in the development of sustainable public facilities. We know that there are cost savings in sustainable building that are easy to quantify, like energy savings. But the effort that's been undertaken is to really try to take a look at capital outlay for public instruction and understand the benefits that we hope are accrued through the development and maintenance of healthy environments for human occupation.

A number of school districts throughout the state have adopted the Collaborative for High-Performance Schools standards for design and construction and for operation and maintenance. We're continuing to support more school districts at the local level through their school boards' adoption of those standards. As more people become aware of the benefits, more school districts, parents, and school board members are asking for the adoption of those standards.

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