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Building Green 2004

March 11, 2004

Green groups set sights on sustainable schools

O'Brien & Co.

 Sakai Intermediate School
Photo courtesy of O’Brien & Co.
On Bainbridge Island, Sakai Intermediate School features recycled materials, enhanced wetlands and a storm drainage system that directs runoff into bioswales.

Schools across the Northwest are incorporating sustainable features:

  • Giaudrone Middle School in Tacoma boasts a daylighting design that brings daylight deep into interior spaces, but avoids overheating.

  • Terrace Park School in Edmonds boasts carbon dioxide sensors that control ventilation making sure there's adequate fresh air, while saving energy (and dollars).

  • Sakai Intermediate School on Bainbridge Island employs an innovative stormwater management system to protect wetlands, as well as an adjacent salmon stream.

It is these types of green building features that the Cascadia Region Green Building Council hopes to see more of in Washington schools. Cascadia's mission is to create capacity for building sustainably in communities in the Oregon, Washington and British Columbia bioregion. Recently the organization set its sights on assisting schools in the region become greener.

“Schools are the perfect place for the council to focus its outreach efforts,” says Glen Gilbert, Cascadia's president.

He notes there is a tremendous amount of school construction activity going on in the region right now.

In addition, Gilbert, who has two young children, points to the fact that “it is going to be the students in those buildings that will be making decisions about how future buildings in their communities should be designed and built.

“It's important that they get to spend time in healthier, more resource-efficient and better-performing schools, so they can make informed decisions that are critical to the sustainability of our region.”

Case studies

The council recently published seven case studies focused on schools with green building features, including the three aforementioned Washington schools and four others located in Oregon and British Columbia.

In addition, council members are planning outreach visits to school districts in Washington that are involved in capital construction projects.

The visits are intended to help school districts start thinking about ways they might set green building goals for their schools and identify resources that might help them achieve those goals.

A survey of school districts conducted by the council in late 2003 pointed out that there was significant general awareness of green building, but not a great deal of specific knowledge.

School district representatives interviewed were clearly hungry for more compelling information to help them make decisions about their construction projects.

The council hopes to respond to this need by producing more case studies, as well as offering green building workshops addressing key issues school districts must focus on when building schools, budget and building performance.

School benefits

Green schools
For more information about the Cascadia chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council and the sustainable schools project, call Glen Gilbert at (503) 228-5533, or e-mail him at glen@cascadiagbc.org. The council’s school case studies are available online at its Web site, www.cascadiagbc.org. Plans for a green-school guide will be announced at www.nwalliance.org.

Sustainable schools provide benefits on three levels. Most obvious is environmental performance. A successful green building design will result in an energy-efficient, healthier building, with fewer environmental side effects.

These environmental benefits produce further benefits in the economic and social realms. A well-designed green school will perform better overall, reducing operational costs and providing an environment that motivates greater productivity and fosters well-being.

Frequently known as the “triple bottom line,” this dynamic between environment, economy and social equity is key to successfully achieving sustainability.

As part of its focus on schools, Cascadia participated this past year in the Washington Sustainable Schools Initiative. The initiative developed voluntary criteria for high-performance schools.

Developing benchmarks

The criteria were created by a joint committee established by the Washington chapter of the Council for Educational Facility Planners International. The broad-based committee included Washington-based architects, engineers, school-facility planners and state education officials, whose vision was to develop benchmarking tools and resources that enable school districts to achieve and measure sustainability

The effort included an intensive review of individual criteria, evaluation of the overall system versus other options (such as LEED), and outreach to others who plan, design and construct schools in Washington.

BetterBricks, an initiative of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, provided process facilitation and technical expertise to the committee, and is scheduled to release the benchmarking tool and a companion planning guide soon.

In a parallel process, Cascadia organized a schools summit called “Pathways to Collaboration” last year to bring over 20 top-level stakeholders to seek common ground regarding how the benchmarking tool could be used, and how it could serve as a resource for a LEED schools application guide that is being developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The next step in the Washington Sustainable Schools Initiative is to apply the criteria in schools as part of a $1.5 million pilot project to be conducted under the auspices of state Office of the Superintendent of Instruction. Cascadia has been invited by agency to help lead the pilot project.

Kathleen O'Brien is president of O'Brien & Co. on Bainbridge Island and secretary of the board of directors for the Cascadia Region Green Building Council.

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