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Licking County, home of the world’s largest, seven-story replica of a Longaberger basket, has a newer, less-obvious attraction – a totally “green” public school. Located 25 miles northeast of Columbus, the Career and Technology Education Center (C-TEC) is Ohio’s first, according to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system with the U.S. Green Building Council.
While eco-friendly schools in states like New York and California are becoming the norm on the East and West coasts, the green movement has been slower in the Midwest. When C-TEC broke ground four years ago, Ohio, Indiana and West Virginia had no green schools, while Michigan and Pennsylvania had only a few.
“People are still stumbling on us,” said Ronald Cassidy, superintendent of the new career center, which opened two years ago. “We get more and more visitors, but I’ll still be on the phone, telling somebody about our building and they’ll say, ‘Where did you say that school is again?’ Pretty soon, they’re out here looking around.”
State level organizations also are taking notice. The soon-to-be formed Central Ohio Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, the Buckeye Association of School Administrators and the League of Women Voters have sent representatives and superintendents to check out the green school. In 2007, the Ohio School Facilities Commission required “green” standards for any school receiving its funds. As these groups walk through the building, they learn about inside air that is cleaner than outside, paint without fumes, chairs made of totally recycled products and waterless urinals. Outside, they see a composting pile, 250 newly-planted trees and a storm water retention pool – all strategically placed to show the school’s environmental focus.
One “green” barrier
With a faltering economy and budget concerns for schools at an all-time high, why did C-TEC go green?
Rick Orr, facilities manager for C-TEC, said there’s only one reason not to go green: Constructing and renovating buildings that meet environmental standards may cost more in the short term than meeting regular building codes and standards. Just how costly depends on the selection of materials, what is done, the size of the building and other factors.
“Helping people become aware of why a school would spend more money up front is a huge part of this process,” he said. “The message has to be this: Going green is a long-term view and the most responsible thing to do – for the students, for the environment and for the taxpayers.”
"Going green is a long-term view and the most responsible thing to do – for the students, for the environment and for the taxpayers... This building project documented 6,200 tons of recycled product that could have ended up in a landfill."
– Rick Orr
Three “green” reasons
Orr spearheaded the green school concept when the district needed more space for its high school and adult students. He said the three big reasons they went green are: 1) long-term financial and energy savings; 2) a healthier environment; and 3) environmental stewardship. He invested considerable time in documenting operational costs for the previous building and researching the rationale behind the green construction.
Financial and energy savings
Orr is quick to point out that going green was not an overnight decision. In 1998, he observed a sharp rise in utilities costs. That year, electricity and water bills reached a total of $200,000. Minor actions, like tightening faucets and turning off lights, brought a 15 percent savings the following year.
At the same time, Cassidy looked at enrollment, especially the adult population that needed ongoing training and re-training. Additionally, new Ohio academic standards, especially in science, necessitated additional room for high school classes. Career-technical education offerings in satellite locations helped, but with 700 high school students and 3,900 adult students served in the Price Road location each year, space in the 35-year-old building was a growing issue.
Orr pulled out his bar graphs, charting natural gas, electric, water and sewer costs from fiscal year 2000. His “stop gap” measures were making a difference, but if the space were doubled to accommodate current and anticipated enrollment, the costs would rise faster than the district’s budget could handle. When compared to traditionally constructed school buildings, the Alliance to Save Energy reported up to 15 percent more in energy savings each year. According to a Greening America’s Schools: Costs and Benefits report, C-TEC could realize a 45 percent savings in water in one year.
“Before our taxpayers approved a $35 million bond issue in 2001, I was looking into green construction,” said Orr, a 1970 graduate of Lakewood High School, one of 10 associate schools served by the career-technical planning district in Newark. “It was clear what we wanted as we looked at 13 architectural firms, but only two were focused on green construction, and only one of those could answer our questions about results.”
Pennsylvania-based Kimball and Associates won the bid because it documented that the investment should yield a life cycle savings of more than 10 times because of such product selections as waterless urinals, ground-face block in the walls and energy-controlled lighting.
The storm water tax already demonstrated early savings. Before constructing the new storm water pool, the average annual bill was $22,000. Last year, the storm water tax was half that amount.
Gregory H. Kats, managing principal of Capital E, a national clean energy technology and green building firm, is considered a premier author and researcher who promotes green school buildings. He has documented reduction of asthma, colds and flu among students and staff in green schools when compared to other buildings nationwide. These increased health benefits equate to financial and educational gains as well.
Absentee rates are down. While Cassidy feels it is too early to be specific about health benefits among staff and the student body, he can point to a student attendance rate of 96 percent this year, compared to a 93 percent rate in 2005 before the new building opened. Health insurance costs also went down 11 percent in the first year. Anecdotally, students and staff complain of less headaches and added alertness, he said.
“Maybe it’s because there are no odors, like from cosmetology, or maybe it’s a morale thing, but students seem to be happier to be here,” Cassidy said. “I walk down the halls and look in the rooms. Students are engaged more than they were before, they are coming to school, and they are graduating.”
Paint, air and natural light may promote a healthier environment. The LEED Green Building rating system categorizes buildings as: certified, silver, gold or platinum. C-TEC is at the silver level. Higher levels have more extensive requirements and upfront costs, such as grass on the roof to improve cooling, catching rainwater for reuse and in-floor air duct systems to better distribute air to the breathing zone. As a silver school, C-TEC made these green improvements:
Paint – C-TEC used earth tones and less-hostile, odorless brands that were powder-coated with a non-toxic application to furniture products, walls and duct work.
Air – Each key classroom has its own self-contained unit that pumps in clean air to that room when needed and eliminates mildew. Additionally, each room is sealed off to keep gasses and odors from moving from one room to the next. Hallways and the building entrances have air locks to seal out dust and other unhealthy outside air particles.
Natural light – Ribbon lighting at the top of each room and multiple courtyards allow for natural lighting, which is reported to be healthier than artificial lighting.
Fuel efficiencies and recycling help students and staff feel like stewards of the environment.
“One of the conditions our school requested when constructing a green building is that no soil would leave the property,” Cassidy said. He pointed to a grass-covered mound outside of the school and added, “That was excavated from around our site. Now, it’s a nice part of the landscape outside the building, and it saved the cost of removal.”
Another requirement was recycling of construction materials that could be diverted from the landfill. “Everything from cardboard to asphalt, concrete, metal, wood and electrical items was taken to be recycled somewhere,” Orr said. “This building project documented 6,200 tons of recycled products that could have ended up in a landfill.”
Staff and students became increasingly aware of the uniqueness of this building project. While no professional development or directives on teaching environmental topics came from top administrators, staff and students increased their awareness of global protectiveness.
This environmental stewardship carried over into the high school curriculum:
From fryer oil to paper products and vegetable waste, culinary arts instructor Jessica Karr and her students are not just talking about – but are actually implementing – green practices. Last year, ceramic plates and bowls replaced foam and paper products for sides, salads, soups and desserts, saving $75 each week. Students just started using recyclable baskets. This year, they estimate a ton of waste will be saved because of recycling fryer oil, vegetable clippings, cardboard, plastic, glass and steel cans. This year, students also started to compost clippings from all the vegetables they chop up.
Teamwork from other teachers helps to shape the curriculum. To make the compost better, Karr teamed up with horticulture instructor Lois Whyd and high school science teacher Kay Holton. Dave Finnegan, who teaches automotive collision repair, is using old fryer oil to make biodiesel fuel for his tractors.
“All of us have been surprised at how much waste there is,” Karr said. “We’re looking to see if we can grow herbs in the compost and use some of them in our cooking and with salads.”
For electricity instructor Greg King, there is a larger mission for practicing and teaching greenness to his students – industry competitiveness. “The construction business is a green business,” he said. “This is the direction our industry is going; my students need to be at the edge of that awareness.”
In addition to conservation of materials, there are lessons of ethics and honesty. Most companies forbid employees from removing materials at a site – doing so can be a case for job dismissal, he said.
King, a 1984 graduate of C-TEC, is saving his program money. Pointing to two bins – one for insulated and uninsulated copper wiring and one for steel – he said in September 2008, his program earned about $3.50 a pound to recycle copper and about $1 a pound for recycled steel. During the 2007-2008 school year, the electricity program earned $3,500 by recycling.
“The construction business is a green business. This is the direction our industry is going; my students need to be at the edge of that awareness.”
– Greg King
Diesel and power equipment mechanics
Last year, Dave McNabb’s students got $2,455 for tearing apart an old, 80-passenger school bus. But the Senior Scrap project was about more than a check that went to their SkillsUSA student organization.
“We talked about the bus parts – the steel, aluminum and glass – and how to remove them and where to recycle them,” McNabb said. “They learned what tools should be used to remove what parts and in what order to remove them. The students now understand the value of not just throwing something away.”
This year, a group of students asked if they could be on a “green team” with the responsibility of looking at recycling possibilities with all projects, including a new one of disassembling a truck that contains outdated parts.
Based on what she has learned by being at C-TEC and during an inquiry-based professional development training at the Ohio Resource Center, instructor April Calesaric came to school this year, armed with a project related to patrol vehicle fuel conservation.
“With rising fuel prices, this is a real-world issue that will impact the students both personally and professionally,” she said. “I’m going to have them explore what cars get the best miles per gallon, and to study where and how vehicles should be deployed for effectiveness.”
The project will require students to problem solve using math, geography, climate and weather impact in science, a crime data comparison and communications.
“With rising fuel prices, this is a real-world issue that will impact the students both personally and professionally.”
– April Calesaric
The juniors in Kay Holton’s environmental science classes are developing a plan to encourage more students and staff to live green in their LEED certified green building. This includes a campaign to stimulate overall awareness of the effects of various practices on the environment – turning off unused computers; recycling of the paper, plastic, metal and cardboard used in classrooms in the school; engagement in clean up on Earth Day; and raising funds for a national chimpanzee sanctuary. Additionally, students are developing an environmental club.
No place to “throw something away”
Superintendent Cassidy notes that the decision to go green is aligned with the district’s vision about creating “community-minded citizens,” especially that “all students can learn in a safe and structured environment.” He said he appreciates the board of education, advisory committees, staff, students, parents and community members who understood the value of the decision and supported it.
“In the past, somebody would tell me to throw something away, and I would do just that,” Cassidy said. “Now, I ask that person: Where is ‘away?’ Pretty soon, there will be no ‘away’.”
“In the past, somebody would tell me to throw something away, and I would do just that. Now, I ask that person: Where is ‘away?’ Pretty soon, there will be no ‘away’.”
– Ron Cassidy
Green School Resources
The following resources are among many available to help individuals interested in exploring green school building construction:
For more information about C-TEC, email Angie Krall at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information about this story, email Pat Huston at email@example.com.