Imagine a house (perhaps even your own) that is roughly 2000 square feet in size. Now, imagine that 20 people live in it. That's not so bad, right? It's still about 100 sf per person. Let's say that over the years, you only do basic maintenance on the house: take out the trash and clean the bathrooms; paint now and then; mop or vacuum the floors, etc. If there's a slightly larger problem, like a hole in the roof, then it might get fixed...or it might not. And if something truly significant is needed---like a new furnace---don't hold your breath. You may have to wait until there is room in the budget next year.
Okay, so how does this house look 25 years down the road? Might the flooring need to be replaced? Will it need a new roof or maybe a new ventilation system? Is it possible that you might need to do some remodeling to accommodate issues that have arisen since you first built the place?
This is what is happening at the average American school. And mine, is slightly "above average" because it is only 25 years old at this point. (The average age is 40.) Buildings are in constant use but only the minimum upkeep can be afforded. In my district, some of the physical conditions under which students are expected to learn are truly undesirable.
Why doesn't the district do something about this? It's expensive---and the money for capital improvements has to come from the voters via levies or bonds. Personal budgets don't have the extra room in them any more than school budgets, so levies and bonds often fail. Ditto for state budgets, although my state will at least provide matching funds for capital improvement levies that pass. And the feds? Why, they have allotted $54 million dollars in the 2005 budget to help out with school improvement projects. That might even be enough to build 6 new schools. Nationwide. Pretty generous, don't you think?
Since other schools in my district are older and more in need of either complete replacement or repair, my school isn't slotted for an overhaul for at least 10 more years---and that's assuming all the levies pass between now and then. That means another 12000 students in our house in the meantime. Another 1800 days of doing the bare minimum maintenance and hoping that things don't fall down. I hope my kids remember to bring their umbrellas to keep the rain off their papers as they work in my room.