Education Week - November 29, 2017 - S16
project. It's a
Parkway School District,
Suburban St. Louis
bipartisan leadership around energy efficiency and a
history of using federal stimulus money to incentivize
schools to become more energy efficient.
Discovery Elementary embodies many of the factors that
go into a green school. Toured by educators from as far
away as South Korea and Uganda, the school is on track to
earn LEED Platinum certification, the highest rating.It has
already earned the 2017 American Institute of Architects
Committee on the Environment Top Ten Award.
The school, which serves 630 students in pre-K
through 5th grade is built into a fairly steep incline on
a site determined decades ago as unusable for school
construction. The 97,588-square-foot building is terraced
into a south-facing hill, orienting it for solar generation
and a geothermal system. It also met its residential
neighborhood's goals for scale, and the community's goals
for preserving flat, open recreational space.
Discovery's 1,706 photovoltaic rooftop solar panels are
angled to maximize sunlight without overtaxing the HVAC
system-a difficult balance to strike.
The amount of energy cost-savings the school saw in
2015-16 equaled the salaries of two full-time teachers.
Among the $33.5 million school's other green features:
Walls are constructed with 3,000 linear feet of insulated
concrete forms, which combine insulation, energy
efficiency, strength, and noise reduction. The cafeteria uses
solar-heated water and serves some fruits and vegetables
grown in the school's garden, which uses graywater runoff
from natural rainwater collected from roof surfaces.
In addition, motion detectors and occupancy sensors are
linked to residential-sized heating, cooling, and lighting
units throughout the building for maximum efficiency. For
example, the units responded to 4th graders being out of
their section of the school for a while-they were on a field
trip-by shutting off the lights.
Construction began in March 2014-a year and a half
before the school opened.
"The first thing you notice is that it's bright because of
all the natural lighting, so you can't help but be happy and
positive," says Heather Blake, who worked at a traditional
(or "non-green") school for six years before becoming
Discovery's resource teacher for the gifted. "There's just
so much open space here, and it's flexible enough for any
subject area or activity."
Jusifying the Investment
Despite concerns that sustainable building costs are too
expensive, the Center for Green Schools points to several
examples that suggest otherwise: The last nine schools
built in Virginia Beach, Va., all LEED-certified at various
levels, cost the district up to 34 percent less than regional
construction cost averages. River Crest Elementary School,
in Hudson, Wis., a LEED Gold school, cost 29 percent less
than regional construction costs to build. And Fossil Ridge
High School, in Fort Collins, Colo., was built for $128 per
square foot, among the least expensive schools the district
built in 2004.
Regardless, any move to save money shouldn't come
at the expense of a job well done, say those who have
experience with green schools.
"Make sure that the school and architects are paired
Education Week * November 29, 2017
with construction and contracting engineers that
understand the needs of students and teachers," warned
Keith David Reeves, Discovery Elementary's senior
instructional technology coordinator. "We got to the
point where we had to switch one contractor that
wasn't listening to us. Some things may look on paper
like an efficiency, but a school has to be a school
Efficiency should still be a top priority, however.
Discovery Elementary's highly integrated energy
dashboard has broken down data on power consumption
and power generation at a granular level-on an hourly
basis-since the system went online in July 2016. Net total
of kilowatts produced between then and October 2017:
Some of the same approaches can pay off at existing
"You can't manage what you don't measure," said Erik
Lueders, the sustainability and purchasing director at the
Parkway school district in suburban St. Louis.
That district benchmarks energy and water use in its
schools against a national average, and about five years
ago identified the 1,100-student Parkway North High
School as problematic. Sustainability improvements to the
school have resulted in a reduction of energy use by 25
percent between 2011 and 2016; between 2012 and 2016, it
had reduced water consumption from plumbing, drinking
fountains, and kitchen use by 37 percent, and irrigation
water use by 45 percent.
Those improvements led to the U.S. Department of
Education choosing Parkway North to be part of its 2017
Green Ribbon Schools program, which recognizes reduced
environmental impact and costs, improved health and
wellness, and effective environmental and sustainability
education. Nationally, 340 schools and 56 districts have
been recognized in the program, launched in 2011.
Aside from a new addition for the 2017-18 academic
year, all other renovations-starting with LED lighting,
which Lueders said was installed with in-house labor
and paid for itself in less than a year-have consisted
of retrofitting existing equipment. A master plan for
additional renovations included swapping watercooled chillers to air-cooled chillers as part of the air
conditioning system, as well as a timeline for replacing
old HVAC equipment and other inefficient features.
The district uses a free, downloadable set of energysaving guidelines provided through the Atlantabased American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and
Air-Conditioning Engineers to help guide equipment
Early-stage planning-whether building from the
ground up or retrofitting an existing school-helps avoid
a number of common pitfalls known to make state-of-the
art sustainable schools fall down in their performance.
The systems being designed for these schools are fairly
complex, yet districts, particularly rural ones, often lack
someone on staff with the knowledge and expertise to
operate and maintain them. That means breakdowns can
result in having to redesign systems to make them easier