Photo courtesy of SHP.
The gymnasium at Talawanda High School

Go for the Green

March 1, 2014
The use of green design when building or renovating a school structure benefits the school itself in a multitude of ways.

Green design isn’t a new concept to the architectural world. As part of 21st century design, architects are continually seeking new ways to make buildings more energy efficient and lowering a building’s total cost of ownership. This concept is spread among a variety of industries, especially educational facilities.  

More than 64 percent of schools lack awareness of the benefits to green design, says Gregory Kats of the U.S. Green Building Council in “Greening America’s Schools: Costs and Benefits.” The use of green design when building or renovating a school structure benefits the school itself in a multitude of ways. From HVAC systems to lighting, green design can significantly increase the total cost of ownership with reductions to energy and water costs. Additionally, green design can benefit the health and wellness of students and staff as well as the surrounding community.  

Green Schools

The term “green schools” was derived from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, which is known as the green building standard. There is a specific rating system titled “LEED for Schools” that provides comprehensive guidelines for schools that are interested in “greening” their school spaces with measurable results. These guidelines consist of various observations in sites around the school, including parking, roof, master plan overview, etc., as well as water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality (air quality, energy use in lighting, building acoustics, etc.).

Many architects design with LEED standards in mind. For instance, SHP Leading Design client, Talawanda High School was strategically built for LEED gold status. Upon project completion (August 2012), the school had earned 44 out of a possible 79 points, becoming the 24th school in Ohio to earn LEED gold status. Coming in to the project in (January 2009), Talawanda knew how crucial it was to build a green school. However, many schools are unaware of how profoundly a green school can impact its students, teachers, and community.

Given that many educational facilities are budget strapped, decision-makers often shy away from the thought of green design, considering the slight increase in upfront costs. However, green schools are known to lower the total cost of ownership in the long term.

Green schools provide numerous financial benefits over conventional schools. For instance, average energy reduction compared with conventional design is 33 percent, indicating an average saving of $.38 per square foot per year in green schools as calculated by FHP Bosch Group in their publication “Schools and Universities.” In addition, green schools achieve an average use of 32 percent water reduction compared to conventional schools, says Kats in “Greening America’s Schools.”

HVAC Impact

Several components in a school contribute to the school’s energy consumption. The biggest one is the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. The choice, design, and technological capabilities of the HVAC system can severely affect energy and water usage in a school. Accordingly, an HVAC system with remote monitoring technology can help building owners control the temperature of the building and alert users when energy is being wasted. Remote monitoring can also alert facility operators of issues early such as carbon monoxide detectors that alert operators as soon as they sense a problem.

In addition to these technologies many schools replace traditional HVAC systems with geothermal pump systems. The concept of geothermal pump systems is simple: transferring heat from the earth to the building. Temperatures underground generally hover around 50 degrees Fahrenheit year round, which helps provide heat in the winter and cool air in the summer.  Schools with geothermal pump systems have 45 percent less energy costs compared to conventional schools.

Healthy Schools

HVAC systems not only have the potential to cut a school’s energy intake, but they also can vastly improve the health of teachers and students. Students attending green schools with proper air filtration have been shown to be subject to fewer disciplinary actions, and teachers require fewer sick days than their counterparts in conventional schools.

Studies have shown that indoor air pollution is more damaging to a person’s health than outdoor air pollution. Many schools have various problems that contribute to indoor air pollution and faulty air circulation, such as mold and microbial growth, chemical spills, exhaust fumes, etc. Poor indoor air circulation impacts the students’ learning environment, comfort, and attendance as well as the health of students and teachers. Common ailments that may relate to poor indoor air circulation include headaches, fatigue, sinus congestion, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, etc.

Air quality is best monitored via modern technologies in HVAC systems or geothermal pumps. It is important for schools to work with the architect early to access these technologies and ensure the best air quality for students, teachers, and staff.

Enhanced Experience

When it comes to building or renovating new schools, district incumbents and architects keep student and staff experience at the top of the list of objectives. Several factors such as temperature, lighting, and even the scenery contribute to the experience and behaviors of those attending a school.  Research by the U.S. Green Building Council shows that teachers in green schools emphasize that their ability to control temperature in classrooms improves student performance.

Green schools generally increase use of natural light and decrease glare. A survey of clients revealed that more effective use of daylighting improves test scores, reduces off-task behavior, and contributes to higher student achievement.

In the case of Talawanda High School, 90 percent of occupied space is illuminated by daylight and consists of direct line-of-sight views. The gymnasium, for example, includes a 360-degree band of windows to maximize daylight.

Green Schools and Surrounding Community

Green schools help the health and wellness of those attending the schools on a daily basis. Green initiatives also help the surrounding community economically and environmentally. Many architects and contractors look for recyclable, local materials to build the school and support local businesses. Additionally, architects design the school with the community in mind in order to decrease water intake and divert harmful pollutants that may fall into nearby sewer systems, lakes, ponds, and the like.

More than 26 percent of Talawanda High School was built with recyclable material and more than 36 percent of the materials came from within 500 miles of the school district. During construction the school was able to divert more than 760 tons of waste from entering nearby landfills.

Additionally, a storm water management plan reduces impervious cover, promotes filtration, and treats storm-water runoff from 98 percent of the average annual rainfall. The plan was able to contain storm water to create an outdoor learning laboratory, which provides students with hands-on learning for biology, botany, agriculture, aquatics, agriculture, and hydrology.

Looking Ahead

Green schools are no longer a futuristic concept. The concept has become a modern standard. As schools look to reinvent their education system for the better and enhance their learning environments, green design can’t be compromised.

Talawanda High School is proof that a green school is a healthy school and a huge benefit for its teachers, students, and surrounding community.

Jahnigen is owner of SHP Leading Design, based in Cincinnati. With more than 20 years of experience in green design, Jahnigen spearheaded the design of Ohio’s first LEED registered school, Pleasant Ridge Montessori School.

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