tampabay.com

New school has a green future

Gulf Trace Elementary will be certified environmentally sensitive because of the materials used and recycling plans.

By JEFFREY SOLOCHEK
Published April 23, 2007


HOLIDAY - When Gulf Trace Elementary opens in January, it's going to be green.

No, not the color.

Gulf Trace will become one of the first schools in Florida, and the first in Pasco County, to win certification as environmentally sensitive from the U.S. Green Building Council. An elementary school slated to open in Wesley Chapel in August 2008 also is on line to get the rating, which only 32 others have nationally.

Another 283 schools have registered to gain the council's blessing.

"You probably won't notice it with the naked eye," said Josh Bomstein, business development manager for Creative Contractors, which is building Gulf Trace. "The perception is it's a hut. The reality is, it's a high performing building."

The differences come in things like materials, building placement and landscaping. Some of the features include reflective paneling on the roof and windows that mainly remain in naturally shaded areas, in order to reduce passive heat gain.

It uses thicker insulation, landscaping less dependent on water and recycled products such as fly ash in the concrete. All this helps to reduce energy use, as well as keep the levels of allergens down inside the school.

"It's a smarter way to design, a smarter way to operate," said John Petrashek, director of new construction. "What we're doing is not the '70s windmill philosophy. It's really smart, data-driven cost savings."

Building green does incur some extra up-front costs. The extra elements add about $106,000 to Gulf Trace's $14-million price tag.

The payback comes quickly, though, according to a 2006 study of 30 schools already recognized as green. The study found that green schools use, on average, one-third less energy than conventionally designed schools. It also stated that teachers and students called in sick less often because the buildings are healthier.

Overall, going green saves about $70 per square foot during the building's life, according to the report by Capital-E, a clean energy and green building consulting firm.

"We ask our kids to learn. We ask them to do incredibly complex tasks," said Greg Kats, Capital-E managing principal. "Therefore, it's only right and fair that we build environments that are conducive to do that."

It's easier to do now than even three years ago, when the country had few experts in the field, Kats said. Today, there are about 37,000 professionals trained in meeting the Green Building Council standards, he noted, and the benefits are growing more clear.

"It's becoming the norm very quickly," Kats said. "This is no longer about being cutting edge. It's about being prudent."

Petrashek agreed. He heard about the concept about six years ago, but found few people who could make it happen. The school district made every effort to build with conservancy and efficiency in mind, but did not pursue going fully green, he said.

The Gulf Trace project offered Pasco it's first true opportunity to gain the green certification, he said.

Some school districts have balked at pursuing the certification from the Green Building Council. One North Carolina district refused to pay for all the reviews and paperwork that go along with the recognition, even as it said it built its schools to meet the guidelines.

Petrashek said Pasco decided to pay the fees and seek the status officially for one key reason: third-party verification. Anyone can say they've built a green school, he noted. Not everyone can prove it.

Pasco is not alone in its effort to go green. The Hillsborough County School Board is to review plans for a green middle school in Citrus Park on Tuesday, and the Pinellas County school district is rebuilding schools in St. Petersburg and Tarpon Springs to meet the standards.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com 813 909-4614 or toll-free 1-800-333-7505 ext. 4614. For more education news, visit The Gradebook at blogs.tampabay.com/schools.

Fast Facts:

What makes a school green?

- Preferred parking for carpoolers and drivers of hybrid and fuel efficient vehicles

- Landscaping with native plants that require less water

- Use of natural lighting (sunshine) and shading (trees) to rely less on air conditioning, heating and electricity

- Waterless urinals

- Use of recycled materials in construction, and continued recycling of waste afterward (instead of sending it to the dump)

FAST FACTS

What makes a school green? Here are a few of the highlights:

- Preferred parking for carpoolers and drivers of hybrid and fuel efficient vehicles

- Landscaping with native plants that require less water

- Use of natural lighting (sunshine) and shading (trees) to rely less on air conditioning, heating and electricity

- Waterless urinals

- Use of recycled materials in construction, and continued recycling of waste afterward (instead of sending it to the dump)