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Articles: Sustainability

An $84 million renovation that includes a pedestrian walkway and greater security at Fayetteville High School in Arkansas was the only public school to receive prestigious architecture this year.

Community helped design Hampton Bays Middle School, which opened in 2008, on Long Island in New York. The LEED-certified building can be used for town hall meetings and adult learning classes, and offers a community garden.

A 2014 study from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory examined five districts using propane in their bus fleets, and some saved nearly 50 percent on a cost-per-mile basis for fuel and maintenance. (Photo:

Transitioning to eco-friendly propane school buses may help districts save money and safeguard student health. A propane bus costs about $15,000 more than a diesel vehicle, but is less expensive to operate and maintain.

Students and administrators of Clark County School District in Nevada launched construction on six new elementary schools, part of a 10-year, $4.1 billion construction campaign.

Growing evidence shows that well-maintained and updated school facilities promote learning, as well as student and staff health, and help curb long-term school expenses.

Macroinvertebrates in cities: Howard County high school students, above, study area streams to check for potential pollution that might harm nearby Chesapeake Bay.

Using a survey tool, biology students in 13 Maryland high schools  help environmental scientists keep an eye on pollution and other factors that might harm Chesapeake Bay or its creatures, including Maryland’s renowned blue crabs.

Miami-Dade County’s BioTECH @ Richmond Heights—a conservation-biology-focused STEM high school that opened in 2014-15 with help from an $11 million federal grant—focuses on zoology, botany, genetics, ecology, chemistry and environmental sciences.

Students will likely choose healthier meals if provided with more comfortable places to eat. Modern lighting and food-court style designs can draw students to dining areas while school gardens can provide learning experiences and also supply cafeterias with fresh, less expensive produce.

A growing number of states require or encourage school districts to adopt green products.

The health risk posed by products with potential carcinogens that pushed Columbia Public Schools in Missouri to adopt simpler, more cost-effective—and ultimately greener—methods. Yet, most district leaders say removing all chemicals is nearly impossible.

Columbia Schools shifted from 33 chemicals to 10 green products to clean their district schools. Here’s what they used to use, and what they’ve adopted today.

At Bee Cave Elementary School, students gather around the teacher for story time in one small space, allowing the school to save energy and money in areas of the room that don’t need lighting.

Lighting is often the overlooked energy hog in the room—accounting for 26 percent of the energy used in a typical school. Retrofitting lighting can reduce that by as much as 50 percent, and it's is often simpler and less expensive than upgrading HVAC systems, producing a quick return on investment.

Learning to grow vegetables and flowers. Digging in the dirt. Understanding how seasons affect plants. Such learning experiences for students come with a green school roof.

Promoting green school roofs is part of New York City’s larger mission to combat air pollution, conserve energy and reduce the amount of stormwater flowing into sewers and waterways.

Green roofs also reduce the need for air conditioning, thus lessening the “urban heat island” effect—a phenomenon in which concentrated human activity and energy use make metropolitan areas hotter.

School gardens used for instruction are on the rise nationwide, and with them, student engagement and test scores, according to a recent study.

The nonprofit REAL School Gardens works with corporations to build outdoor classrooms at low-income schools. The gardens include 150 square feet of vegetable beds, perennial and herb beds, rainwater collection systems, composting bins, earth science stations, and animal habitats.

Sandy Grove Middle School, part of Hoke County Schools in North Carolina, is the first energy-positive school in the nation to be financed by its own expected energy savings.

The 74,000-square-foot school opened to students in fall 2013, and was designed as a net-zero facility that produces more energy than it consumes. It will also meet LEED Gold standards.

Students from Richard J. Lee Elementary School, part of Coppell ISD in Dallas, have a lesson in the school garden.

Districts recovering from the recession and in need of new buildings and renovations can save money over time by building net-zero energy schools, architects say.

Hacienda La Puente USD in California signed a five-year, $5.3 million energy savings performance contract in part to upgrade exterior lighting at four high schools.

New partnerships between districts and energy service companies provide much-needed funding for school sustainability upgrades that can range from installing efficient lighting to renovating entire buildings.

Energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs) allow school leaders and other public agencies to complete energy-savings projects without upfront capital costs.