It is a bit puzzling how we got to the point where parents have to send their children to school with toilet paper and paper towels, but that is exactly the way it is in some school districts. There just never seems to be enough money to go around. From this perspective, anything that can be done to help schools operate more cost efficiently has to be welcomed, and that is where sustainable building enters the picture. We tend to think of green building practices as solely being for the purpose of saving energy, but it serves other purposes, too.
As the nation’s school infrastructure ages, the buildings will have to be replaced simply for safety and security reasons. The EPA estimates that more than 40% of the nation’s schools are operating with sub-standard environmental conditions that pose a threat to the health of students and teachers. Our children deserve to attend school in environments conducive to learning, and that is yet another reason why green schools make sense. Careful design of energy efficient schools means features are included that keep children more comfortable, better able to work and focus in naturally-lit rooms, and breathing cleaner air–free of harmful toxins. They can learn essential skills as healthier children.
Designing Buildings that Help Children
However, green school designs go even further in enhancing the learning experience. The school and school site can be designed in a way that turns the structures and land into learning experiences. For example, room windows affording a view of a natural environment can work in tandem with ceilings slanted to enhance natural lighting. Students not only work in a more productive learning environment, but there’s plenty of room for discussion on topics like natural resources, light reflection, and even angles.
Sure, there are plenty of complex and expensive design elements that can be used in school environments. Sophisticated HVAC systems that heat, cool, and cleanse air and rolling, automated window shades are just two of them. That said, it is important to not get bogged down with the idea that green school design is beyond the financial capacity of struggling states. There are plenty of design elements that are easy to incorporate in new and existing schools, including features as simple as careful window placement and inclusion or installation of the right acoustical ceiling tiles able to meet the LEED reverberation time requirements. Sites can be re-landscaped to include natural vegetation and flooring that does not produce harmful VOCs installed.
You see…all of these things help children and that is what school is all about.
LEED for schools focuses on indoor air quality, daylighting, classroom acoustics, mold prevention, and environmental site assessment–all of it wrapped up in master planning or an integrated design process. As a matter of fact, it is not necessary to tear down all the existing schools and build new ones to provide children environmentally sound buildings that promote good health and learning. Existing schools can be upgraded.
Starting a New Motto
Instead of ‘No Child Left Behind,’ the motto should be ‘No Child Learns in an Unhealthy Building.’ With all the time and money invested in protecting wildlife, coastal property, forests, and so on (all important), it is really a bit amazing that anyone would be concerned with the cost of building quality learning environments for children.
If you want to learn the LEED strategies and features for schools that are easiest to implement and earn the biggest ROI in terms of energy savings and learning environmental improvements, then attend GBRI’s live webinar Green Schools I: Design Elements on April 10, 2013, at 3:00 PM Eastern, or available on demand beginning April 12. It is the first of a two-part series on green schools. The second session begins April 17, 2013 and is called Green Schools II: Costs, Benefits, and Challenges.
Oh…and by the way…the energy and water savings the green schools experience may free up money for toilet paper. Now, wouldn’t that be progress?
Are the schools in your area in need of upgrading or rebuilding to provide a better learning environment for children?