When planning for new, high-performance schools, restrooms stand out as an area prime for improvement. Traditionally, restrooms have been designed to be little more than utilitarian. The result is that many school restrooms in the United States are in a state of disarray, lacking the essentials of good hygiene.
Tom Keating, founder of Project CLEAN (Citizens, Learners and Educators Against Neglect), an education and advocacy group aimed at improving the conditions in school restrooms, estimates that one-third of the more than 900,000 U.S. public school restrooms are dirty, unhealthful or unsafe.
These problems have intensified as school districts face budget cuts that often hurt school cleaning and maintenance departments. In some cases, doors or partitions have been removed, toilets and urinals are broken or clogged—even water and soap dispensers disabled or removed to discourage vandalism. Germs found in poorly maintained school restrooms are easily spread because of a lack of proper hand washing and hand drying.
What’s more, these conditions send to students and teachers the demoralizing message that they are not important enough to have well-maintained restrooms. Clean, well-maintained restrooms indicate a healthful learning environment; dirty restrooms often suggest danger, and a lack of discipline or adult supervision, and an otherwise unhealthful learning environment.
Inadequate attention to the design and specification of these high-traffic areas may result in undesirable, unclean restrooms that students visit only if absolutely necessary.
Putting green into practice
The Green Schoolhouse Series (GSHS) takes this into account when designing its restrooms and in doing so, challenges school administrators to create an environment that conveys health, sustainability, safety, performance and durability. GSHS is a public/private collaboration that focuses on meeting the critical needs of children, education and the environment. Spearheaded by a partnership between Brighten A Life, a nonprofit organization, and CAUSE AND EFFECT Worldwide, a cause development firm, the Green Schoolhouse Series brings together corporations, foundations, school districts, municipalities, communities, media outlets and volunteers to build 21st-century, environmentally sustainable schoolhouses on existing Title I, low-income, K-12 public school campuses.
Funded through corporate partnerships, in-kind donations and charitable contributions, a Green Schoolhouse replaces four to 10 aging portable classrooms with a permanent, multipurpose facility, ranging in size from 6,000 to 15,000 square feet.
This year, students at Road Runner Elementary School in Phoenix will see their school transformed into a schoolhouse built entirely by volunteers that is designed to achieve a LEED platinum certification. GSHS, in collaboration with Phoenix’s Washington Elementary School District, will replace outdated portable structures at two K-12 schools with sustainable schoolhouses.
Construction at Roadrunner Elementary School for the inaugural Green Schoolhouse, The Safari, is underway and expected to be ready for a ribbon-cutting ceremony in May; the second Green Schoolhouse, The Studio, will be completed at Orangewood School in late spring.
The Safari school will take about 30 to 45 days to complete and is being constructed by volunteers led by professional contractors, tradesmen and technicians.
The design goal for the Safari Green Schoolhouse was to create a sustainable educational environment that is engaging for 21st-century learners and the schools’ surrounding communities. The design team embraced the ideas that teaching and learning occur both within and beyond the walls of traditional classrooms.
In pursuit of these goals, the Safari design team tried to use all available educational opportunities. Designers maximized space through the integration of building systems, such as daylighting, natural ventilation, and the use of recycled and renewable materials.
Community members will be exposed to the school’s inner workings through volunteerism and engagement in its community spaces, which will be used for sustainability education, among other activities. All activity participants will learn sustainability principles through the school’s development and its building features.
In designing the green restrooms for the school, the design team followed the specifications outlined in “Next Generation Green Restroom Design,” a continuing education course and specification guide developed in conjunction with the U.S. Green Building Council. The course provides performance specifications for restroom fixtures that improve hygiene; reduce waste, maintenance, water usage, and energy consumption; and engage young learners.
For example, use of touchless flush valves, faucets, soap dispensers and solid-surface sink systems reduce the potential for spreading germs and bacteria. The faucets also are powered by solar panels; this provides students with an opportunity to learn how photovoltaic power and motion sensors work.
High-speed, energy-efficient hand dryers provide a sustainable solution by replacing paper towels. Each hand dryer features a custom graphic and text that highlights the Safari’s theme and teaches students about environmental stewardship, operational costs and improved sanitary conditions.
The dryers also help reduce the time and money spent on maintenance. In most cases, high-speed hand dryers greatly reduce or eliminate the plumbing and maintenance expenses that may result from paper towel-clogged toilets, overflowing trashcans or more serious paper towel-related vandalism. With minimal maintenance, the dryers provide a cost-effective solution that is sustainable and efficient.
Other potential learning opportunities include energy-tracking dashboards that calculate the reduction in carbon output, waste and water usage. These features and other building accoutrements enable schools to transform utilitarian spaces to engaging and educational learning environments.
By creating a progressive and comprehensive educational setting, GSHS, along with its community and corporate partners, will continue to showcase how green schools can lead the way in education, sustainability and health.