HARRISBURG, Pa. (ErieNewsNow) - This week, state lawmakers in the House and Senate announced legislation addressing toxic school buildings in the commonwealth.  

"As we move forward, we have to provide resources. We're sitting on billions of dollars in the rainy-day fund while we have schools that literally have rain coming through the roof,” said Rep. Bob Merski (D-Erie), one of the Democratic lawmakers who announced the legislation on Wednesday. 

Lead, asbestos, radon, mold and other hazardous elements are frequently found in our schools, which has significant short- and long-term effects on children and faculty,” said Rep. Bridget Kosierowski (D-Lackawanna). "These negative impacts range from physical health and safety to academic achievement. Toxic schools are a public health crisis,” she added.

The legislation seeks to support the state’s school construction program, PlanCon. According to the Department of Education, the program is initiated when a school district undertakes a major school construction project and seeks reimbursement from the state. PlanCon is an acronym for Planning and Construction Workbook, and is a set of forms and procedures used to apply for reimbursement. 

The legislation would fund the maintenance program within PlanCon for critical projects and repairs like roofing, HVAC systems, boilers, plumbing and electrical wiring. 

“I know firsthand from my own districts- Erie Public Schools, Harbor Creek schools- the buildings are starting to get older,” said Merski. “Pipes are bursting, the electricity is out of date for today's modern technology. They're usable, but they're not functional for today's modern needs. And just like you need to update your house, we have to update our schools,” Merski added. 

As a former educator, Merski says an adequate and safe environment that meets the needs of modern education is crucial. 

“It's important for me as a former educator to make sure that our children have quality public schools. If these buildings were in the private sector, they would be shut down and be forced to be repaired,” said Merski. “We do more for our prisoners than our children when we send them to schools that lack adequate ventilation, that lack adequate heat, air conditioning, and are not clean, safe and dry,” he added. 

Merski and his Democratic colleagues will also introduce a bill to address toxic school buildings. This legislation would make changes to the commonwealth’s Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program by making it easier for public schools to submit applications for building improvements. 

Governor Josh Shapiro is set to deliver his first budget address next week. Merski hopes additional funding for school improvements is included. 

“I hope that when the governor gives us his budget address next week that these resources are in the budget for our public schools,” said Merski.