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Finding Funding

Unconventional funding is available for sustainable projects.

Integrating sustainable design into schools no longer is seen as just an interesting alternative; it's becoming the mainstream approach in facility design. "For students and families across the country, more green schools ultimately mean more effective education facilities, significant operating costs savings, a better environment and healthier communities," explains Rick Fedrizzi, president of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), which oversees LEED certification.

"We've figured that, on average, green schools save $100,000 per year in direct operating expenses," says Rachel Gutter, senior manager for the educational sector, USGBC. Using an average of 33 percent less energy than conventionally designed schools, according to Greening America's Schools, a 2006 report, "green school facilities also increase air quality, cut water use, and reduce other resource uses significantly."

These kinds of benefits explain why more than 1,000 schools across the nation are either LEED-certified or seeking certification. Thousands more have embraced some aspect of sustainability in design and day-to-day operations. Yet, one of the greatest deterrents to creating more green schools is the perception that it costs more.

But by building more sustainably, schools can find additional sources of financing that wouldn't be available for a more conventional construction project. There isn't one easy source for funding information, but there are many resources available.

"Don't write high performance off because of cost," says Ariel Dekovic from The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS). "There are certainly many strategies and if you think about it from the beginning, it can reduce the costs."

National sources

The Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) provide resources and technical information. The DOE recently has released the "Guide to Financing Energy Smart Schools," which addresses financial barriers to constructing and retrofitting high-performance schools.

The EPA provides technical information through its Energy Star building labeling program and also addresses indoor air quality (IAQ) through its Tools for Schools Program, which focuses on sound management practices.

A nationwide Green Schools initiative, USGBC's "Fifty for Fifty," urges state legislators in every state to create green schools caucuses. Launched in September 2008, the initiative includes opportunities for partnerships with community experts such as architects and contractors, as well as local incentives offered to promote green building. Cost-benefit studies, best-practices and information on developments and trends also will be available soon.

A possible future program is the 21st Century Green High-Performing Public Schools Facilities Act. The House passed it in 2008, but the Senate did not act on the legislation. It would provide more federal funding to create sustainable schools.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act sets aside about $8.8 billion in state fiscal funds for addressing safety and other government services, and this may include school renovation and modernization through a recognized green building program. Each state has a process for allocating these funds through the governor's office. School districts, communities and legislators need to promote funding for green building.

A few provisions in the Energy Act have been authorized, but not yet funded; for example, research to demonstrate the benefits of good indoor air quality. More federal funding and programs will become available under the new administration.

State programs

Grants for green schools and similar programs also are available; the amounts vary considerably. Funding is available for promoting energy and water efficiency, maximizing natural lighting, improving indoor air quality, using recycled and less toxic materials, and other green improvements that help teaching and learning.

California, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Washington and several other states have funding to finance the design and construction of green schools that comply with the criteria established by CHPS, LEED or specific state criteria. In California, the High Performance Incentive Grant program earmarked $100 million for "green" school projects, funded by Proposition 1D.

Other California programs include the Bright School Program, Energy Efficiency Financing Program and Savings by Design.

Ohio also has a number of programs to support local communities in designing and building sustainable schools. The state is investing more than $4 billion toward green school construction, aiming to start 250 green school projects within the next two years. Ohio anticipates these green schools will save more than $1.4 billion in energy and water reductions alone over a 40-year period.

Foundation grants

Foundations provide a variety of funding for going green, often with limitations on who can apply and how the funds are used. The Kresge Foundation, a proponent of green design, has a nationwide $8 million green-building initiative. The independent Chartwell School in Seaside, Calif., which educates children with dyslexia, received a planning grant of $75,000 from the foundation and, a year later, a challenge grant of $750,000 to turn its plans into reality.

Daylight modeling was used to situate the new school building and maximize light. By controlling heat gain, the need for electricity is reduced by half. Classroom ventilation takes advantage of existing convection currents to use microfans and air-quality sensors instead of the air being handled through ventilation ducts, which require more maintenance and create more noise. The roofing system catches rainwater, feeds it to a cistern, and the water is used to irrigate the landscape, reducing building water usage by 70 percent. Chartwell is the first complete school campus to be awarded LEED platinum.

Many foundations operate within a specified geographic area. Information on foundations can be found through sources such as The Foundation Center (

Partnering up

Businesses, particularly those with a national presence, often are interested in supporting green initiatives for schools. Funding can range from small grants to the entire financing of a new school. In Pennsylvania, Microsoft teamed up with the School District of Philadelphia to build the sustainable School of the Future as a model of a successful educational environment. Eco-Media teamed up with CBS to create a Green Schools Initiative, giving $250,000 "green makeovers" for selected schools.

Many new solar-power companies are emerging and eager to work with non-profit organizations such as school districts. Through power purchase agreements (PPA), these companies take advantage of state and federal grants for alternative energy, essentially renting the roofs from schools to place arrays of photovoltaic panels. These companies receive up to a 40 percent tax credit for fronting the costs of the solar panels. In turn, they sell the power back to the school districts at a discount, to 20 percent below market rate.

  • Read the "Students fund solar panels" sidebar for more information on how students at Thomas Jefferson (TJ) High School for Science and Technology in Virginia did not let funding detour its efforts to go green.
  • Read the "Green terms" sidebar for information on many green terms.

Bunton, AIA, is founding principal of BCA Architects, San Jose, Calif. He can be reached at [email protected] or (510)445-1000.

WEB 101

Students fund solar panels

Thomas Jefferson (TJ) High School for Science and Technology, a public school in Virginia, has not let funding detour its efforts to go green. A group of students formed the TJ Environmental Impact Club in 2006 with the goal of bringing clean energy to the school. It decided to go solar.

Its state is not generous when it comes to funding solar. "We had to look elsewhere," says Amanda Hurowitz, one of two teachers working with the club. "We targeted four groups: parents, alumni, other TJ clubs and corporations." The group started with the Parent Teacher and Student Association, put up tables at school events and spread its need for funds by word of mouth. "Then we convinced our alumni association to send out an e-mail and give us access to their database to send out printed information," says Hurowitz. "We solicited donations from other clubs and Future Business Leaders of America, and raised $8,000. We also convinced the class of 2007 to give us $6,000 as their school gift."

Next, the group cold-called corporations. "We received donations from Dominion Power, Texas Instruments, Patagonia and Java Green," says Hurowitz. The student volunteers teamed up with Alexandria Whole Foods to raise funds on Earth Day 2008, receiving 5 percent of all the store's receipts for that day.

So far the club has raised $44,000. The school has solicited bids and is buying a 4 kilowatt system with an oversized inverter "so we can easily add to it." A kickoff ribbon-cutting ceremony — and press event to raise more funds — is in the works.

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