The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was finalized last week and is expected to be signed by President Barack Obama on Feb. 17, and while Democrats in the House and the Senate had to remove billions of dollars to get the $787 billion stimulus package passed, it still contains plenty of money for infrastructure and building improvement projects that should lead to thousands of new jobs for architects, engineers, and construction workers.
"You're looking at $140 billion at least for infrastructure in this package," says Will Straw, associate director for economic growth at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C.
Among the many built-environment highlights in the stimulus:
- $5 billion for a program to weatherize low-income housing
- $4.5 billion to repair federal buildings and increase the use of green technology and boost energy efficiency
- $6.3 billion for energy-efficiency and conservation grants
- $4 billion for the public housing capital fund to improve energy efficiency in aging buildings
The AIA, which had been pushing Congress to include as much money as possible for infrastructure modernization and energy efficiency projects, called the stimulus bill a start, although it was disappointed more money was not allocated for school repair and modernization.
In fact, no stimulus money is allocated specifically for school construction projects. The bill sets aside $105.9 billion for investments in education and training, of which $39.5 billion "can be used for preventing cutbacks, preventing layoffs, school modernization, or other purposes," the bill states. Schools may also have access to $8.8 billion in funding given to states for "high priority needs," which could include education, and modernization and renovation of school and higher education facilities.
But the AIA is concerned that with school systems and state and local governments worried about budget shortfalls and teacher layoffs, any money that could go to facility modernization will get routed to other needs. It's something the institute will be working against in the coming months, says AIA senior director of federal relations Andrew Goldberg.
"We're really going to make the case to state education agencies and school districts that the quality of the building is just as important as the quality of the teachers," Goldberg says. "You can do so much with some relatively small investments in modernizing and renovating buildings. You can lower energy and water costs, and you put people to work."