Area schools are building, teaching eco-friendliness
They’re incorporating such things as solar panels and natural lighting and teaching ‘sustainability’
By Rachael Scarborough King / The Bulletin
Published: March 27. 2007 5:00AM PST
PRINEVILLE – With energy costs on the rise, the Crook County School District is looking to go green with its next generation of school buildings.
The district is in the middle of an overall review of its school facilities, and officials say designing sustainable, energy-efficient buildings will be a priority in the future.
But Crook County is not the only Central Oregon school district making its schools more eco-friendly. The Oregon Department of Energy considers Sisters High School, which opened in 2003, a model for so-called “high-performance” schools. And some Bend-La Pine schools have incorporated natural lighting and solar panels to save on energy costs.
Jeff Landaker, the chairman of the Crook County School District facilities committee, said that sustainable schools will “without a doubt” figure into the recommendations the group makes to the school board later this year.
Landaker added that the facilities committee will probably finish its work this fall in anticipation of a school bond on the May 2008 ballot.
“It’s for the environment – it’s environmentally good – but secondly, you can see just the cost savings that pertain to that, which translates back into dollars in the classroom for the students,” he said.
Reducing the impact
High-performance schools are ones that incorporate good indoor air ventilation, natural daylight, high energy and water efficiency into its facilities. They also create the opportunity to use the facility as a teaching tool, according to the Oregon Department of Energy.
In its existing schools – which currently are all running out of room for additional students – Crook County has taken a number of measures recently to reduce energy costs. Superintendent Steve Swisher said the district has saved $200,000 a year since upgrading its heating and energy system a few years ago.
“Basically, it’s cost savings for the taxpayer in the long run, when you’re reducing your operating costs,” he said.
Swisher was superintendent of the Sisters School District when the new high school was being designed.
Scott Steele, the school’s architect, said it includes sustainable features such as a storm water and snow retention system, reflective glass to reduce heat gain, occupancy sensor lighting and locally manufactured stonework. He added that the need for less insulation and other materials saved the district $50,000 during construction.
“The buzz word is sustainability, but sustainability really incorporates common-sense design, common-sense use of regional materials, high-energy efficiency and then operational aspects, too. There’s even green cleaning products you can use when you flush them down the drain,” Steele said. “It is absolutely a no-brainer that long term it is in the best interest of the community and the children who are in that building to use sustainable practices.”
Steele said that many of the guidelines for sustainable building are set out by the Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design program, which is run by the U.S. Green Building Council. School architects and project managers can apply for LEED certification based on a ratings system that emphasizes good classroom acoustics, indoor air quality and efficiency.
LEED also has ratings guidelines for other projects. Buildings do not have to achieve certification to be considered high performance, however. For example, Sisters High School is not LEED certified, but meets many of the program’s criteria, Steele said.
Brandon Adams, schools program manager with the Oregon Department of Energy, said that improvements in air quality through better circulation and less use of chemical-heavy building materials can improve student health for conditions such as asthma and allergies. He also presented a study of over 21,000 students in Seattle, Fort Collins, Col., and Capistrano, Calif., showing that students whose schools had the most natural daylight performed 15 percent better on math and 13 percent better on reading tests when researchers controlled for other variables.
Adams added that “one of the coolest aspects” of high-performance schools is the potential for incorporating design features into the curriculum.
Students and teachers in the Bend-La Pine district have also been taking the lead in trying to reduce their schools’ environmental impact. Summit High School has installed solar panels. Becky Mallatt’s first-graders at La Pine Elementary School weigh their leftovers from breakfast and lunch every day so that they are more aware of how much they are wasting. Mallatt said that over the month she has been doing the program, the students’ lunch waste has dropped from about five pounds every day to under a pound.
“I think it’s important for them to think about the waste, that people are hungry in the world and we shouldn’t be just throwing food away,” she said. “If we can start them thinking about this now, then these habits will carry on as they get older.”
Students in Martha Carter’s leadership class at Sky View Middle School in Bend also came up with the idea of a cleanup crew to make sure classrooms are recycling properly. They then incorporated a “watt watchers” program, where teams check on empty rooms to make sure the lights are off and issue reminders or thank-you notes.
“It’s helping the janitors and hopefully setting a good example for other people,” said seventh-grader Courtney Eddleston, 12.
Costs and savings
Local architects, school officials and energy experts say the costs of building a high-performance school have dropped enough that districts should make back the extra investment within a few years.
Adams recently gave a presentation to Crook County’s design subcommittee on the benefits of building green schools. Adams said that eco-friendly construction can save school districts tens of thousands of dollars a year and should not require significantly more in capital investment.
“My goal here is to try to paint a picture for you of what a high-performance school is and how it can benefit the occupants,” Adams said at the meeting. “But I’d also like to (dispel) some myths about the perceived added costs associated with green or high-performance schools.”
He added that capital costs can increase by up to 5 percent during construction, but that money should be made up over the life of the school in energy savings, operating costs and student and teacher retention.
Adams pointed to the model of Sisters High School as a case study for high-performance schools in Central Oregon. That school has features to increase the amount of natural daylight inside the building, such as larger windows and solar shading.
“The staff likes to work in these environments, they like to see the natural daylight, in particular when you have views,” he said.
He added that the process of designing green schools should start early, preferably before the district goes out for a school bond.
Linda Bonotto, schools resource conservation coordinator with Bend-La Pine Schools, said she is working now to add green features to existing plans for three new schools in the district. The next time officials go out for a school bond, she said, they should start out with a high-performance design.
“Even if in the past it has been more expensive to build green schools, now what they’re finding out is it’s paying back much faster,” Bonotto said. “Everyone knows it’s the right thing to do, it’s just always been a matter of money, and now I think that’s an issue that should no longer be a driving factor.”
Bonotto said the new schools will include green materials that emit less gases and features to increase the natural daylight indoors.
“In Central Oregon, where we have 95 percent sunshine every day, we should be integrating solar panels and windows that capitalize on solar functions,” she said.
She added that she thinks school districts should be at the vanguard in designing environmentally friendly buildings.
“It’s the right thing to do – it’s what we should all be doing, particularly in schools, is modeling conservation,” she said. “I think as educators it’s just something we need to be doing. We need to be taking the lead.”