The Grass is Greener On This Side
Using energy efficiency to make money and improve pupil academics is graining ground in K-12 schools nationwide.
While it might cost extra to install green building features, roughly up to 14 percent more for construction than for traditional buildings, more school administrators are putting out the dough now to save more of it in the long run while at the same time being environmentally conscious and watching student test scores go up. They really need to go up.
A 1999 study by Hershong Mahone Group showed that students with the most daylight in their classrooms performed 15 percent to 20 percent better on math tests and 19 percent to 26 percent better on reading tests than those with less daylight. Conversely, poor facilities contribute to high teacher turnover rates, particularly in urban districts, states a report from the 21st Century School Fund and Ford Foundation. They should understand that.
Being green appears to be growing-from the motor vehicles we buy to the foods we eat. It's still not an overly popular design. But the desire to build more environmentally sound schools appears to be growing because administrators see savings and communities are benefiting-physically, fiscally and emotionally. Everyone should help out and make the Earth a better place to live. We need Green go Green!!!
When the choice is made to go green, usually committees are formed, architects are hired, and plans are designed for a building.
Among some giant green programs underway are Cincinnati Public Schools, which has a $1 billion renovation and new construction project in motion after decades of living with dilapidated buildings, and Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where a German architect with a green-oriented background is helping to create and jumpstart an oasis of programs. Chartwell School in Seaside, Calif., will open this year. It is targeting LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council and expects be the first such school in the U.S.
Being green doesn't necessarily mean using LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards, but being as energy efficient and as environmentally friendly as possible. LEED Green Building Rating System is a national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. The U.S. Green Building Council, a coalition of leaders from the building industry to promote environmentally responsible and profitable places, develops the LEED system.
"It's hard for people to get over the hurdle. Green schools initially are more expensive but in the long run, it saves money," says Tyler Pepple, education program coordinator for Earth Day Network working with Cincinnati administrators.
And not only are districts using green materials, they are teaching green lessons to students. "I think we have a responsibility to educate the whole community," says Michael Burson, facilities director for Cincinnati Public Schools. "In our buildings, it's not rocket science to understand the connection between the two. We need to teach the next generation to be more responsible in how we use natural resources. It should connect to everything else we do. When you tell children to save, to get in the habit of turning off the lights when they leave, it will help remind adults to follow suit. Hopefully, it can be institutionalized for the next generation."
Here are the top FIVE major green avenues:
Living creatures need the sun to survive. And that's where lighting in schools can be so healthy for students and staff alike. Cincinnati schools use occupancy sensors to turn lights on and off. Some of them are in restrooms and even janitor's closets, much-ignored rooms, Burson says.
Burson is unsure of the savings, but light sensors have reduced light consumption by 30 percent based on test results of a similar installation in Cincinnati's City Hall that Burson helped plan over a decade ago.
Using photovoltaic panels at Pleasant Ridge Elementary School, a building in design now and which will be LEED certified, is also turning the sun's rays into electricity. "What happens is when our panels are generating electricity our meters [to utility companies] are running backward so we're reducing the amount of electricity we buy from electric companies," Burson says. "I think that's the biggest savings we'll get in the new building."
Then there is the north/south facing windows to maximize daylight in classrooms. Experts say windows that face the north and south will bring in the most natural light. Schools in Cincinnati, Montgomery County, and Olympia, Wash., all benefit from this.
"I know that when it comes to the preliminary design of every building we start from there," Burson says. But sometimes the hills of Cincinnati and streets often hamper plans to place a school building in the optimal position.
At Montgomery County School District, the green building program is part of the Green Schools Focus group and north/south facing windows is key. "You can save up to 50 percent of energy use per year," with proper lighting, says Anja Caldwell, the district's green building program manager.
Skylights tend to give off too much light, whereas roof monitors, with vertical glazing, provide more and better indirect daylight in several Montgomery County schools, Caldwell says.
She came to the U.S. eight years ago from her native Germany, where energy conservation was as prevalent as bratwurst. She also introduced LEED Exit signs, which have more efficient light bulbs.
Low-emitting glaze windows, or those that don't let as much heat enter in the summer and don't allow as much heat out during the winter, are on newer schools, as well as Great Seneca Creek Elementary School, the county's first LEED-certified school to open next month.
A 25-year-old program in Montgomery called School Eco Response Team has students patrol the 215 schools' rooms to turn off lights and computers not in use. The schools that save the most electricity receive cash rewards. The district overall saves about 5 percent in utility bills, which means nearly $2 million a year. It funds user education training and other energy-efficient measures, Caldwell says.
Olympia School District in Washington also uses plenty of natural light. At Washington Middle School, which is under renovation, typical classrooms have skylights, which are set above light wells allowing natural light to wash down walls. And this is balanced with windows placed on exterior walls. "The whole idea of natural lighting is not to bring in as much light as possible, but good quality light, at an even level," says Timothy Byrne, project manager for facilities at Olympia schools.
Indoor Air Quality
About half of the nation's 120,000 private and public school buildings have indoor air quality problems, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Indoor air pollution is considered among the greatest health risks, causing headaches, nasal congestion, breathing problems and other ailments. Volatile Organic Compounds are chemicals used to manufacture and maintain building materials, cleaning products and furnishings.
Green schools across the U.S. are trying to minimize the use of carpets, as in Cincinnati. "So we're using hard surface flooring, tile or similar materials that are less expensive," Burson says. "There has been a resurgence of linoleum. The attraction there is that it requires less rigorous maintenance" such as waxing, he says.
Another important component of air quality is acoustics, Burson adds. He notes some studies show that classrooms and students would benefit from noises that were no louder than a certain level. Ceiling tiles and technology, like a teacher's microphone, can dampen those noises, he says.
The Center for New American Dream published 200 green cleaning products at www.newdream.org/cleanschools.
Also in Olympia, nearly an entire building that was torn down was recycled. The brick, wood and metal were recycled locally and the carpet was taken to a Georgia carpet mill for recycling. "It did cost more to ship the carpet off to Georgia than it would have to put into a local landfill, but regeneration of materials is the key to our future and our children's future," Byrne says. "We must minimize waste and recycle materials as much as possible."
Montgomery conducted another pilot project at Northwood High School in Silver Spring, which is currently under renovation. It is a retrofit of a green, vegetated roof to filter rainwater. It calls for three inches of "engineered dirt," Caldwell says, which includes sand, volcanic rock and soil, which soak up rainwater during a storm. Without it, rainwater simply runs off and tends to flood sewage systems, making contamination of lakes and streams probable.
It also allows cities to build and maintain fewer underground storm water management systems. "I'm very confident these technologies work because I've seen them work in Germany for over 20 years," Caldwell says.
The first LEED-certified school in Montgomery County, two-story Great Seneca school, will have a geothermal system that uses plastic pipes laid 100 feet under athletic fields to harvest the cold and warmth of the Earth to heat and cool the building, Caldwell says. Water is pumped through two loops, one cooled and one heated depending on the season. Fans then pump the air over the coils into classrooms, eliminating the need for boilers. It is supposed to save more than 45 cents per square foot per year, Caldwell explains, which after about 10 years will provide free energy. The school will use 45 percent less potable water and about 35 percent less energy.
And the school will have an educational program so that students and parents can learn about the building's environmental components through a guided tour and games.
Sawtooth Elementary School in the Twin Falls School District in Idaho is also receiving a makeover in its geothermal system, which has been in use since the mid-1970s, according to Superintendent Wiley Dobbs.
With help from Honeywell, which is active in retrofitting schools and helping them to be more energy efficient, the system is being updated to drastically cut the use of fossil fuels and to take advantage of a clearly sustainable and green strategy, says John Carter, Honeywell's director of energy services for North America.
The water in the system is also used to heat the nearby city swimming pool behind the high school. "It's a pretty neat way to do things as far as heat goes," Dobbs adds. "We're able to save money and it's better on the environment."
Honeywell will also help the district build and renovate a new energy-efficient high school in coming months. Upgrades should generate $3.5 million in energy savings, which will fund some of the work.
At Washington Middle School in Olympia, Byrne says natural ventilation came about with special dampers, like shutters, which are installed high in light wells and on exterior walls below windows. The dampers open and close automatically-bringing in fresh air. When the comfort level or CO2 hits a certain level, the ventilation fans kick in.
And thermostats in Cincinnati classrooms allow staff to make adjustments within four degrees, up or down from the recommended settings. So it's important that staffers and teachers know how to use such controls. "It's one thing to put these in your building but if the staff doesn't know they are there, you just wasted your money," Burson says.
And every school building in Cincinnati will have central air conditioning. The new Rockdale Elementary School, which opened in 2005, used less HVAC energy than the old building it replaced during the first year of operation. But the gas bills were higher because the new building is much more sophisticated, including running AC in summer to dehumidify rooms, Burson says. Air conditioned classrooms prevent pollution from outside, and in the end, help asthmatic children breathe easier, he says. And moisture from hot, humid days can also cause ceiling pads to buckle or gym floors to sag, Burson says.
Project architects also designed Pleasant Ridge HVAC systems to yield more than 23 percent energy cost reduction.
Energy-saving features include:
--Heat recovery wheels that transfer energy between outside air and exhaust airstreams to temper incoming ventilation air so refrigeration and boiler plant energy use is reduced;
--An air distribution system under floors that allows fan horsepower to be downsized and electricity expenses lowered;
--And a heating and cooling water distribution system that uses less pumping power than conventional systems and uses control technology for precise temperature control.
Sensors that pick up movements under sink faucets and above toilets will be installed in group restrooms in new Cincinnati schools including Pleasant Ridge Elementary to help conserve water, but some problems have made them less attractive for all the restrooms, Burson says. "We will look for other automatic faucets" or others operated with mechanical push buttons, he adds.
In Montgomery, some urinals don't flush but waste runs through a special cartridge into the wastewater system. At Martin Luther King Middle School, for example, 18 urinals are now waterless. They saved $4,600 in the first year, Caldwell explains.
And Washington Middle School in Olympia is among the first schools in the Northwest using rainwater harvesting. They buried a 15,000-gallon tank to collect rainwater off the roof, which is used to flush toilets. "We figure why use potable water to flush toilets?" Byrne asks.
It works like this: Rain runs off the roof to a gutter system, which filters out debris. A downspout runs from the gutter to a "roof washer" that sits at ground level. From there the rain travels through an underground pipe to the tank, or cistern. A pump inside the cistern pushes water to a room inside the school building. In this room, two more filters rid even more debris. The rainwater is piped from the filters to the new water closets, or toilets, at school. In case the cistern runs dry, a domestic water supply switch can be used. "The new water closets are cutting edge," Byrne says. "They are dual flush. They literally have number 1 and number 2 button controls-no kidding."
Angela Pascopella is senior features editor.