In late May, Olympics history was made at the refurbished 82-year-old pool at Newport Harbor High School in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Orange County, Calif. The U.S. men’s water polo team beat in the 2012 Olympic trials the gold-medal-winning Hungarian national team for the first time in a decade.
While the school’s pool has a rich past as a proving ground for athletes growing up in the area, now it is a symbol of the district’s commitment to sustainability. The recent replacement of underwater lights with energy-efficient LED lights is saving the district thousands of dollars in electrical costs each year.
“We look at sustainability as a way to provide improved service,” says Timothy Marsh, the district’s administrative director of facility support services. “Anything that we can do less expensively leaves dollars available for other things.”
The district hired an energy manager, Kent Ramsayer, nine years ago and adopted a wide-reaching, energy conservation and management policy in 2007. “We began by promoting sustainable practices such as recycling and by implementing behavioral changes that affect the use of electricity, natural gas and water,” Ramsayer says. “And we started taking advantage of local utility incentive programs that made economic sense.”
Southern California Gas Company, for example, offered the district a rebate for installing superefficient pool boiler systems. A local water district helped make it possible to replace 278 traditional urinals with waterless urinals.
A particularly successful energy-efficiency incentive effort, the Green Schools Program, has allowed the district to partner with Southern California Edison for the past two years. Green Schools is a hands-on education project created by the Alliance to Save Energy, a national nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. The program empowers K12 student volunteers—who work on “green teams” with teachers, facilities staff, and a regional Alliance case manager—to become environmental stewards of their own schools. The programs’ Student Energy Auditor Training (SEAT) teaches middle school and high school students to use toolkits that measure appliance use and room temperatures, analyze data and make recommendations that can save schools electricity and money. In the process, students develop leadership skills and also learn about green careers.
In its first year with Green Schools, the district reduced energy usage by more than 9 percent and saved more than $70,000 in electrical bills. The school board voted to return 50 percent of those savings to the 14 schools whose green teams did the energy fact-finding and reporting. Newport Harbor High School received a check for $10,846. “It blew people’s minds that we saved over $21,500 in just one year,” says Newport Harbor assistant principal David Martinez.
“The program has been wonderful in getting buy-in from students and staff at the school sites,” says Marsh. “It’s ownership. Green Schools has done things for energy conservation that doesn’t work from the district level as an edict.”
The Green Schools Program is running in several states.
Newport-Mesa (Calif.) Unified School District
- Interim Superintendent: Robert Barbot
- Students: 21,800
- Schools: 31
- Staff: 3,023
- District size: 59 square miles
- Students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches: 41%
- Per-pupil expenditure: $11,402
- Web site: web.nmusd.us
Mary Johnson Patt is a freelance writer in Fair Oaks, Calif.