AIA Grassroots and Leadership Conference Gives Moody Nolan Associates Chance to Advocate Policy

Board of Directors, AIA Columbus
From left to right: Matt Toddy, AIA; Yanitza Brongers-Marrero, AIA (2019 President) and Michael J. Vala, AIA (2019 President Elect).

From March 5 to 8, American Institute of Architects members from 48 states and three U.S. territories met in Washington, D.C. at the AIA Grassroots and Leadership Conference to discuss how architecture intersects with public policy.

According to two attendees representing Moody Nolan – Yanitza Brongers-Marrero, Associate Principal and Director of Housing Studio, and Drew Deering, Senior Associate and Project Manager – one of the highlights was advocating for two policy changes with their congressional delegations.

Brongers-Marrero, of the Columbus Office, and Deering, of the Chicago Office, were among more than 600 AIA members who spoke to U.S. senators, representatives and congressional aides regarding two key AIA proposals. One dealt with school safety and the other with energy efficiency.

“The school safety proposal takes no political side on things such as gun control,” Brongers-Marrero says. “The point is to overcome the challenges to safety by those who sit in the classroom. It’s about designing schools so that kids and teachers can find shelter, or with controls built in if there’s an intruder, or better ways to communicate any issues.”

The proposal advocates for funding to help districts access professional counsel on how to make schools safer, and for a clearinghouse to define best practices when designing schools for safety.

Deering said the proposal aligns with a lot of the work he does in the k-12 space: “How to create defensible space, make it possible to see around corners, no blind spots, creating an open environment and safe spots. We don’t have to reinforce buildings to make them safer. Nobody wants to go to school in a prison.”

The other AIA proposal advocates for tax credits for technology that reduces carbon emissions in older buildings.

“Forty percent of emissions are from existing buildings,” Brongers-Marrero says. “There are now tax incentives for energy efficient measures in new construction, but it doesn’t help much with old buildings. We’re asking to expand the tax code to cover efficiency measures in those.”

Deering says he has attended the national Grassroots Conference multiple times.

“One of the fascinating things is being on Capitol Hill and learning more about the initiatives the Institute is talking about,” he said, “as well as the networking.”

Deering met with aides for U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, and for U.S. Reps. Danny Davis and Jesus Garcia, all members of the Illinois delegation.

Brongers-Marrero met with U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers and aides for Rep. Troy Balderson, Rep. Joyce Beatty, Sen. Sherrod Brown and Sen. Rob Portman, all of Ohio.

As the new president of AIA Columbus, Brongers-Marrero says she came away from Washington with a renewed enthusiasm for advocacy at the local level.

“We’ve now formed an Advocacy Committee to look for ways to more constantly be in touch with state legislators and members of city council,” she said. “We are very interested in the role that citizen architects can play within a community.”