Bill Passed by New York Legislature that Prohibits Construction of New Schools within 500 feet of Highways

Long Island Construction Law does not own this content. This content was created by  Michael Elsen-Rooney and was published to the Daily News on Jul 10, 2022.

A bill passed last month by the New York state legislature would prohibit districts from building new schools within 500 feet from freeways to cut down on exhaust fumes seeping into classrooms.

The legislation, which is now awaiting a signature from Gov. Hochul, is an effort to address long-standing environmental injustices that have left students of color and low-income kids disproportionately exposed to pollutants that can affect their health and academic success, supporters say.

“It’s the first time in New York we’re recognizing that we should be thoughtful about where we’re placing schools,” said Lanessa Owens-Chaplin, the Environmental Justice Project director at the New York Civil Liberties Union, who drafted the legislation. “This is an important step for protecting predominantly kids of color from being exposed to air pollutants.”

The Environmental Protection Agency advises districts not to build schools within 500 feet of freeways, where air pollution is measurably higher. Breathing in high volumes of exhaust fumes can lead to long-term respiratory problems, and kids in schools closer to highways had slightly lower test scores than otherwise similar students in less polluted areas, a working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research found.

Twenty-three states have passed legislation banning construction of new schools close to freeways, Owens-Chaplin said.

Yet across New York state, 375 schools, including 225 in New York City, sit in the shadow of major thoroughfares, according to an NYCLU analysis.

Owens-Chaplin said the bill contains several exemptions to ensure that new school construction doesn’t come grinding to a halt, particularly in New York City, where real estate is scarce and highways are ubiquitous.

The highway proximity rule wouldn’t apply to school construction that’s already in the works or even in the planning stages. And if districts exhaust all their other options, they can request a waiver to build a school within 500 feet of a highway, Owens-Chaplin said — an outcome that could be particularly common in New York City.

Officials at New York City’s School Construction Authority warned that even with the carveouts, the bill could pose “extreme challenges for appropriately siting new school projects.”

A spokesman for the agency argued that there are other ways of mitigating the impact of air pollution in schools, including installing air filtration systems and orienting schools so that main entrances and outdoor areas don’t face highways.

“SCA standards on new construction currently meet or exceed standards for air quality and pollution controls, thus significantly reducing the environmental concern sought to be addressed by this bill,” said spokesman Kevin Ortiz.

John Caravella Esq., is a construction attorney and formerly practicing project architect at The Law Office of John Caravella, P.C., representing architects, engineers, contractors, subcontractors, and owners in all phases of contract preparation, litigation, and arbitration across New York and Florida. He also serves as an arbitrator to the American Arbitration Association Construction Industry Panel. Mr. Caravella can be reached by email: or (631) 608-1346.

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Long Island Construction Law does not own this content. This content was created by  Michael Elsen-Rooney and was published to the Daily News on Jul 10, 2022.