Group to promote state legislative efforts to build green schools
A trade group that promotes green building design is urging state legislatures to form caucuses to support environmentally sustainable schools.
The U.S. Green Building Council, the Washington, D.C.-based group that promulgates the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating tool, is spearheading the "50 for 50" effort to lower school energy and maintenance costs and bolster student learning and health.
The United States spends roughly $30 billion annually on its schools, but many of these buildings are not built to code and lack natural daylight and ventilation, USGBC founder and President Rick Fedrizzi told a National Press Club gathering yesterday.
"We have the ability to change the way that a child's life begins," he said at the kickoff event. "We have the ability to take them out of a very scary, dimly lit, bad-smelling, uncomfortable environment and put them into rooms that inspire them."
Fedrizzi was joined by legislators who vowed to launch bipartisan green-schools caucuses in Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico and Virginia. Reps. Darlene Hooley (D-Ore.), Michael McCaul (R-Texas) and Jim Matheson (D-Utah) launched a similar group last fall in Congress (Greenwire, Nov. 14, 2007).
The state caucuses will function similarly, introducing legislation and educating the public, noted Adam Schafer, executive director of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators.
State Rep. Mary Brandenburg (D), who represents Palm Beach County in the Florida House of Representatives, said she is forming a caucus to ensure every child in the state is in an energy-efficient school. In April, the Florida Legislature passed a bill that requires all public K-12 and higher-education schools to be built to LEED standards.
Brandenburg's district is the home of Pine Jog Environmental Education Center, which is in line to become Florida's first LEED-certified elementary school.
"Our school board opted for a LEED building because it makes good economic sense," Brandenburg said, noting the school's spare interior and water-efficient fixtures. "It will be cheaper to operate.
A 2006 study sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers and USGBC found that building green could save a typical school about $100,000 annually in energy costs, enough to offset the average 2 percent premium cost of state-of-the-art building materials within a year.
Others are dubious about the benefits of making the investment in high-tech energy monitoring systems and green rooftops. The nonprofit National Center for Policy Analysis charged in a report last month that schools in Washington state that were ordered to go "green" have higher energy costs than conventional buildings (ClimateWire, Aug. 6).
But such green whistles and bells could be marvelous teaching tools for budding engineers and scientists, contended Minnesota state Rep. Jeremy Kalin (D), who represents Chisago County, northeast of St. Paul.
Schools with solar photovoltaic panels should use the devices to teach students about how electricity is generated, he said.
"The classroom should be a laboratory," he added. "Our schools should be teaching tools."