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More schools making earth-friendly grade

Officials say green building here is nothing new.

By DONNA WINCHESTER
Published April 22, 2007


Imagine a school with classrooms constructed entirely of recycled materials. One that uses nontoxic paint on the walls and low-maintenance polished concrete for floors.

Parking spaces near the entrance would be reserved for carpools and people who drive fuel-efficient vehicles. Native plants would dot the landscape.

Those are the types of ingredients that likely would appear on a "nutritional label" for a school considered environmentally sensitive by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Only 32 schools in the United States and Canada presently meet "green" standards set by the council, but another 283 are in the works. Three are in Pinellas County.

But school officials here say many of the features that make a building green - at least the features that are more than cosmetic - have been part of school construction for a long time.

The difference between a school built five years ago and the district's plans for a newly rebuilt Tyrone Elementary, for example, would be hard to see, said facilities department head Tony Rivas.

The district has sprinkled lawns and outdoor plants with reclaimed water for years, Rivas said. Utilizing environmentally friendly refrigerants is standard operating procedure. And recycling material from school demolition, another practice that earns points with the building council, has become commonplace.

"We were already doing most of the things that are being advocated," Rivas said. "But now we're able to get a third-party, the U.S. Green Building Council, to validate it."

That validation, known as "LEED certification," requires documentation which begins in the design phase and continues through construction. In addition to the new Tyrone Elementary, scheduled to open in August 2008, the district has registered new versions of Tarpon Springs Elementary and Boca Ciega High for LEED certification.

Other green schools on the drawing board throughout the state are in Charlotte Harbor, Port Charlotte, West Palm Beach and Holiday.

The U.S. Green Building Council estimates that green schools can save $100,000 per year in operations and maintenance costs. If all new school construction and school renovations went green starting today, the council claims, energy savings alone would total $20-billion over the next 10 years.

Regardless of whether the changes will be large or small, environmentalists are calling the green building trend more than a fad. Greg Kats, managing principal of Capital-E, a clean energy and green building consultant firm, says "green" construction is what's going on in "smart school districts."

"This is no longer about being cutting edge," said Kats, who wrote a report saying that green schools use 33 percent less energy than conventional schools. "It's about being prudent."

Fast Facts:

 

What the U.S. Green Building Council says about "green" schools:

Financial benefits

- Green schools can save $100,000 per year - enough to hire two new teachers, buy 150 new computers, or purchase 5,000 new textbooks.

- It costs less than 2 percent more to build a green school than to build a conventional school.

- If all new school construction and school renovations went green starting today, energy savings alone would total $20-billion over the next 10 years.

Environmental benefits

- LEED-certified green buildings use 30 percent less energy and 30-50 percent less water and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent.