The Green movement

Educators are accustomed to giving out grades, good and bad. Some of their students strive for the highest grade possible and take up temporary residence in the library or pull all-night cram sessions to earn an A. Others put in just enough work to get a comfortable C. Still others can't be bothered to make any effort and are slapped with an F.

When it comes to sustainable design and construction, it's the educators and administrators whose work is being graded. And just like the students they serve, education officials have different levels of commitment as they pursue environmentally friendly strategies in building schools and managing facilities and operations.

Some schools and universities that are set in their ways are unconvinced that green strategies are effective or worth the cost; others may tentatively adopt a few environmentally friendly approaches, but don't take a comprehensive approach to incorporating a green philosophy into their facility-managing decisions.

The schools and universities that earn an A in sustainable design are the ones who have decided to fully embrace the green movement. They strive to examine every element of a construction project or maintenance program with an eye toward making school facilities operate more efficiently over their entire lives with the least possible impact on the environment.

“We want to do more than build a building,” says Marianne Lund, chairperson of the Charlottesville Waldorf Foundation, which is raising money to build a green school in Virginia. “We want to build a movement.”

Degrees of green

The place many school administrators look to for grading their commitment to green design and construction is the U.S. Green Building Council. Its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program enables builders and designers to earn ratings for their construction and renovation projects based on the number of sustainable strategies included.

The program assigns up to 69 points for various sustainable features and strategies incorporated into a building, and facilities can earn one of four levels of LEED certification. A “certified” label goes to a building with 26 to 32 points. A facility with 33 to 38 points earns a silver certification. A gold certification is awarded to a building with 39 to 51 points. The top category, platinum, goes to a facility with more than 52 points.

The 69 points can be earned in six categories:

  • Sustainable sites (14 possible points) pertains to issues such as site selection, urban and brownfield redevelopment, stormwater management, heat-island effect and light pollution.

  • Water efficiency (5 points) pertains to issues such as efficient landscaping and innovative wastewater technologies.

  • Energy and atmosphere (17 points) involves efforts to optimize energy efficiency and use renewable energy sources.

  • Materials and resources (13 points) pertains to issues such as building reuse, construction waste management, recycled content, and use of local and regional materials.

  • Indoor environmental quality (15 points) pertains to issues such as indoor-air-quality management, use of low-emitting materials and daylighting.

  • Innovation and design process (5 points) pertains to sustainable strategies that go beyond or are not included in the LEED guidelines.

Colleges and universities are fertile areas for green strategies to take root. Students and faculty often are environmentally conscious, and the concentration of facilities on a single campus provides numerous opportunities for energy savings.

At the University of New Hampshire (UNH), three recently renovated residence halls — Congreve, Lord and McLaughlin — have improved their energy performance enough to become the first residence halls in the nation to earn the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star rating.

“UNH is … showing that residence halls are just like any other buildings that can achieve high energy efficiency,” says EPA regional administrator Robert Varney.

The upgrades are saving the university nearly $80,000 a year in energy costs compared with the average residence hall in the United States, the EPA says. Improving the residence halls is one aspect of an ongoing UNH program, Climate Education Initiative. Its goal is to help save energy throughout the campus, using techniques such as energy-smart lighting, upgraded building-control systems and energy education.

Maximum green

In Virginia, the Charlottesville Waldorf School makes it clear what grade it is striving for with its green strategies. The website for the elementary school facility it is planning to build is Teaching environmental responsibility has been a key part of the curriculum, and the school set a goal of building a facility that will earn the top LEED certification — platinum.

The Charlottesville Waldorf Foundation was formed in 2003 and raised $1 million to buy a 13-acre site for a new facility to replace the leased space it has occupied for several years. Now the group's campaign, “Building a School, LEEDing a Community,” is trying to raise $6.2 million to build the new Charlottesville Waldorf school building. So far, about $2 million has been raised.

The design of the 19,000-square foot, 250-student facility by architect Ted Jones strives to preserve the natural topography of the site and incorporates a school farm garden and orchard into the existing meadow. The plumbing system will use no-water urinals, composting toilets, grey-water collection and water-efficient landscaping.

The footprint of the facility will take advantage of passive solar heating and shading. A living-roof system composed of plants and built with nontoxic materials will reduce solar heat gain. The slope of classroom ceilings will reflect daylight deep within the school's interior, and clerestory windows will provide general task lighting.

Other planned sustainable-design elements include geothermal heating and cooling, and straw bale construction. The construction materials chosen for the project will have reused or recycled contents, and zero or low emissions and toxicity. The school site was selected to be within easy reach of public transportation.

Lund estimates that incorporating green strategies into the Charlottesville Waldorf plan will add about 15 percent to the typical design and construction costs. A key goal of the project, Lund says, is to become a national model and show other schools — public and private — that using green strategies to build and run a school does not have to break the bank, and will save money — and the environment — in the long run.

“It's easy to build green when you're just throwing money at it,” says Lund. “That excludes those who aren't able to afford it. We want to model not only environmental efficiency, but also fiscal responsibility.”

Zero energy

The ultimate goal for environmentally conscientious building designers would be to create a facility that doesn't use any energy. That may not be practical, but what is feasible is constructing a building that produces as much energy as it consumes.

Such a “net-zero energy” building is being designed for the campus of Crowder College, a two-year school in Neosho, Mo. The school has had a solar energy program for more than 20 years and has built solar-powered homes and the first solar-powered vehicle to cross the United States. The college has been chosen by the state of Missouri as the home for the Missouri Alternative and Renewable Energy Technology (MARET) Center.

The $8.9 million building that has been designed to house the center will provide not only education programs — including LEED certification training for architects and designers — but also training, research and support for startup businesses in the alternative energy field.

“It's intended to generate growth of local industry,” says David Kromm, president of Kromm, Rikimaru & Johansen, the St. Louis architectural firm designing the facility. “The goal is to inspire businesses to do research into energy-efficient buildings.”

To succeed as a net-zero energy facility, the design and construction have to take into account the climate and geological conditions of the area, says Kromm. The climate around Crowder — near the junction of Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas — poses numerous challenges, specifically the extremes of temperature and humidity.

“The key word is humidity,” says Kromm.

The building will use several renewable technologies to produce energy: solar electricity, solar thermal energy, daylighting, wind generation, geothermal systems, biomass, and water management and treatment.

“We will power the building entirely by alternative energy,” says Kromm.

Other green construction practices planned for the center include an earth-sheltered design and a green roof. To meet LEED standards, the building will be constructed with materials from the region. The building will have low-emission paints and carpeting, says Kromm.

“We're trying to do some things that haven't been done before.”

Kennedy, staff writer, can be reached at [email protected].

Blowing in the wind

Where is the Erie Community Unit School District #1 in western Illinois going to get the energy to power all four of its school buildings?

The answer is blowing in the wind. Or, to be more specific, the 1.2-megawatt wind turbine the district is installing near its middle school. It will convert wind from the Illinois plains to energy that will provide power for the next 30 or so years to the district's elementary, middle and high schools, as well as an annex building.

“I had been reading about wind energy, and I thought that our campus, with all our buildings within a contiguous block radius, would be a good candidate for using wind to power all the buildings,” says Mike Ryan, superintendent.

As an added bonus, the wind generation project will enable the district to install air conditioning in the elementary, middle and annex facilities (the high school already has air conditioning). Even with the additional cost of the air conditioning, Erie expects to net about $4 million in energy cost savings over 30 years, Ryan says.

“The biggest question in the community was the total cost,” says Ryan. “Coming up with $3.5 million is difficult for a small, rural district.”

In the end, the expected savings convinced the community that the plan would benefit the district. The financial benefit improved even more when the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation awarded the Erie district a $720,000 grant for the project.

Johnson Controls, which is building the turbine for the district, estimates that the project will enable Erie to reduce its purchased electrical energy consumption by 87 percent. In addition to the $4 million in energy savings, the district also may reap significant profits by selling any excess energy generated to the local energy provider. Ryan says he is not including any of those potential profits in his financial projections because energy price fluctuations make it difficult to count on those sales as an ongoing source of income.

Construction on the wind tower is to begin this summer, and the district expects to have the turbine completed by December.

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