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March 13, 2019
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Chapter News

Grassroots 2019: A Day at Capitol Hill

By John Campbell, AIA, RIBA, LEED AP

As Part of the AIA 2019 Grassroots conference in Washington DC, Paul Avazier (AIA PHL President-Elect), Michael Skolnick (AIA PA & AIA National Strategic Council Rep), Beth Maier (AIA Bucks County Rep) and myself (AIA PHL President), participated with over 450 fellow AIA members from across the country in the AIA national board government advocacy day on Capitol Hill lobbying our senators and house representatives.

The day was extremely well organized by the AIA and their consultant Soapbox. This included a full briefing on the 2 issues being advanced and how to use the limited time with the Congressional delegates in the most effective manner to deliver the message and make “the ask”.

The two AIA federal agenda issues; Energy Efficiency and School Safety.

  • Energy Efficiency: The issue is that the main federal policy that is meant to increase the energy efficiency of buildings is only positively impacting a small percentage of them. The solution being asked is for Congress to support updating the federal tax code to increase energy efficiency in commercial and multi-family buildings by expanding the current definition of what is considered ‘qualified improvement property’ or QIP, to include energy efficient technologies. This change would allow building owners and developers to write off a certain percentage of depreciation costs if they install energy efficient technologies such as HVAC, mechanical insulation, lighting, windows, roofs, submeters and other building management systems
  • School Safety: While all sides of the political spectrum agree we need to design our schools to be safe learning environments, most of the nation’s 122,000 school buildings are not designed to deter school violence. Education officials lack funding and credible information about how school violence can be mitigated through architecture and design. Currently local and state officials lack a central repository of credible best practices, resources and overall safe school design information. The AIA is urging Congress to create this clearinghouse to provide all school officials with a “one-stop shop” repository of credible best practices to make schools more secure by design and also make design services eligible for existing federal grant funding.

It was a very interesting experience walking the halls of Congress with a lot of waiting between meetings watching the constant flow of groups visiting and lobbying their Congressional delegates. While in most instances we met with staff members, we did meet with Rep Dwight Evans (PA District 03). Overall the meetings were very engaging and the two issues were very well received by both sides of the aisle. With around 15 minutes to make the case, it required being concise and focused on the message, making “the ask” and building a rapport. It was a thoroughly enjoyable day and a great learning experience. To round the day off, there was a Congressional Reception at the Library of Congress, which is a stunning piece of architecture.

The key lesson from the day was how important it is for the profession to articulate key positions that are meaningful to the profession and society at large and then to advocate for them at all levels of government; Federal, State, Local and Community. We certainly encourage everyone to become engaged in this process. 

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