Stevenson symposium: ‘All children should learn in green schools’

April 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

Educators and professionals from around the state gathered at Stevenson High School on Friday to discuss how sustainability initiatives and green facility management can thrive in educational settings.

Sponsored by the United States Green Building Council-Illinois, the Healthy and High Performing Schools Symposium offered participants the opportunity to exchange ideas with each other and learn more about current trends in facility design. With Stevenson playing host and environmental model, the goal was for additional school districts around the state to take some tips home to their own buildings.

“We believe all children should learn in green schools in this generation,” said Jenny Wiedower of the U.S. Green Building Council. “We’re looking for the most actionable, scalable and most transformative ways that we can improve school buildings so all students have access to a healthier learning environment.”

To that end, Wiedower led participants in a group activity in which they were to prioritize green and sustainable projects for a fictional school.

The goal was to create a better, more modern school for the community while making the difficult decisions related to need and cost.

From 8 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., the breakout-heavy schedule featured presenters discussing facility planning and renovation, green facilities management, environmental education, energy efficiency, water conservation, food service, bus schedules, landscaping, roof use and more.

Leading a session on schools and renewable energy was Luann Kolstad, the business manager for Prospect Heights School District 23.

When District 23’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems reached the end of their useful lives, the school board faced a tough decision, Kolstad said. Cost estimates to replace those mechanical systems topped $5 million while adding air conditioning to the district’s three buildings would have increased that total by another $3.5 million.

Instead, the school board looked to geothermal heating and cooling for a total cost of $6.2 million.

“It replaced every single mechanical system in the building,” Kolstad said. “We’ve been told we’re going to have minimal maintenance for at least 20 years.”

District 23’s geothermal system includes more than 150 bore holes dug 500 feet into the earth. Water is transported from the earth through pipes installed into each building’s main hallways. Feeder pipes then bring the water into each classroom and the earth’s natural cool temperatures and heat is used to provide the desired temperature to the buildings.

Kolstad said the district used only 383 therms of gas in January 2014, compared to 8,215 therms in the same month last year.

“It can range from 40 to 70 percent in savings,” Kolstad said. “It’s very dynamic and reacts very quickly to the change in temperatures. It’s adaptable to the changing educational environment.”

Josh Marder of Eco-Solar joined Kolstad at the presentation and also spoke of the benefits of solar and geothermal energy.

“These systems do cost quite a bit of money and there is sticker shock,” Marder said. “But it’s a long-term investment. You’re saving money every day. Eventually you get to a payback date where the system is making money for your school or home.”

Jason Ackerman, who works in the construction industry, attended the symposium to educate himself further in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design requirements. His company is currently working on a project seeking LEED Platinum certification and hopes others continue the trend of environmentally-friendly construction.

“This is my specialty,” Ackerman said. “We do a lot of schools and universities. In the past a lot of people said we were wasting our time, but it’s here to stay.”

Stevenson has set a strong example: In 2011, the Patriots became the nation’s first pre-existing public school to renovate and upgrade enough to earn the U.S. Green Building Council’s gold-level LEED certification.

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