Green Schools, Healthy Schools

By Del Stover

When Colorado’s Poudre School District began building green schools some years ago, school officials had the idea to design buildings with large, high-performance, glazed windows so that natural light could help lower lighting costs and create a more cheerful learning environment.   The idea worked well -- but there was a hiccup. During parts of the year, when the sun shined at a particular angle, the light entering classrooms with a southern exposure overwhelmed the protective glazing and left classrooms too bright for comfort.

A mistake? Yes. But as more school boards nationwide embrace the concept of green schools -- ones that promote energy efficiency and environmentally friendly operating practices -- there is inevitably going to be a steep learning curve. As with any pioneering effort, there are hard lessons to be learned.

“Some of the things we’ve learned are things not to do again,” admits Stu Reeve, energy manager for the Poudre schools. “But people are very interested in learning about things that didn’t work out … and sharing information about what a high-performance school looks like.”

That’s perhaps the most important lesson school boards should take to heart if they choose to go green. Tap the expertise of the trailblazers. They’ve learned what works -- and what doesn’t. In later school designs, for example, Poudre officials started installing smaller windows on the south side of buildings and looked to sun tubes -- mini skylights -- to bring more indirect light into classrooms through the roof.

These school officials also have learned that green schools don’t necessarily cost more to build. Costs often were higher when green strategies were added on to a traditional school design. However, school construction experts have learned that incorporating green strategies into the original design of buildings keeps construction costs down and maximizes the savings of energy conservation practices.

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