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Concrete Masonry Puts 'Kids First' in Schools

When building schools, some school boards are beginning to use a new concept called the "Kids First Approach." This idea focuses on creating schools that are safe and provide a healthy environment so the students can focus on learning. Such school construction projects are designed with fire safety, building security, maintenance, durability, energy efficiency and noise management in mind. But topping the list is remediation and control of mold. "To a school administrator, mold is a four-letter word," said Don L. Bell, superintendent of the Northern Lebanon School District in Pennsylvania.

Bell has spearheaded the "Kids First Approach" and supports concrete masonry design as one of the best ways to achieve it. When Bell began plans for an addition and renovation at Northern Lebanon Middle School in 2002, he and architect Jay Darkey of JPD Architects agreed to build with concrete masonry. "We have a vision to prevent mold in the first place and concrete masonry is one of the best construction materials to prevent mold. I have seen the benefits of using concrete masonry in the past and the horror stories when it was not used," Bell said. "As far as mold goes, it is a hot issue right now," said Darkey, explaining that architects must address moisture in design and that masonry is one of the best ways to do that.

"The structure has to be detailed properly to address any potential for moisture getting in the walls." The intrinsic properties of concrete masonry make it a natural choice where there is concern about mold growth. "Masonry does not provide a ready food source for mold; if there is a mold problem, it is easily remediated by cleaning it instead of replacing the entire wall," said Jan Boyer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Concrete Masonry Association. Bell also knows firsthand the protective properties of masonry in terms of fire safety. While he was principal of a high school, there was a fire in the school on a Saturday when no one was in the building. "The fire completely gutted the room itself, but it was contained just to that classroom because of the concrete masonry construction," Bell said. "It did not spread to any other rooms." Boyer adds, "We are fortunate in Pennsylvania in that most schools are made of masonry and if Dr. Bell has his way, even more schools will be using masonry.


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