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Washington Co. schools, hospital going green

October 24, 2009|By MARIE GILBERT

WASHINGTON COUNTY -- In Washington County Public Schools, one of the newest teachers on campuses this year is the cafeteria.

Here, students are learning how to be ecofriendly.

Gone are disposable items, such as trays, plates, cups and utensils. Now, instead of the trash can, most tableware heads to the dishwasher.

And the paper milk cartons familiar to several generations of students? They've been replaced by plastic bottles.

There also are recycling bins for paper, plastic and aluminum, which are carted away to a co-mingled Dumpster.

It's all part of an effort by the local school system to go green.

"We're trying to do what's right," said Jeff Proulx, supervisor of food and nutrition services for Washington County Public Schools. "What's right isn't always popular, easier or cheaper. But we have to be good stewards of the Earth."

Cafeterias are just one example of how Washington County schools are making changes to help the environment.

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"The biggest contribution to going green has probably been our recycling program," Deputy Superintendent Boyd Michael said. "We're a big paper-producing organization, which means paper is our largest waste product."

From the central offices to classrooms, he said, recycling containers are everywhere.

In addition, Michael said the Board of Education has a new recycling policy that encourages employees and students to reduce consumption of materials when possible, reuse materials prior to disposal and participate in recycling efforts by local and state governments.

Outside of paper, plastic and aluminum, computer hardware is recycled, as well as batteries, tires and oil from buses.

Green initiatives especially will be visible in new school construction, said Robert Rollins, executive director of school operations.

Larger windows will be used to take advantage of natural light and reduce the use of artificial light.

Landscaping also plays a part in being ecofriendly, Rollins said. Trees are planted around parking lots to reduce the heat that comes off those surfaces and also are planted to prevent water runoff.

The next big step, beginning with the proposed construction of Antietam Academy and Eastern Primary School, would be geothermal technology, which uses the Earth's temperature to heat and cool buildings.

Michael said going green often can be "a balancing act -- protecting the environment, while at the same time, being reasonable where cost is concerned."

"We're heading in the right direction," he said. "We may not be there just yet, but we're always striving to improve."

"I think every step, regardless of how small, is important," Proulx said. "I'm a young guy and I want the planet to be around for my children and my grandchildren."

Hospital's prescription

If the environment is ailing, Washington County Hospital has a prescription.

Go green.

From waste management to the foods prepared in the kitchens, a newly formed hospital "green team" is looking at ways to protect the environment.

"We started about a year ago," said Deborah Addo Samuels, vice president of patient care services and a member of the team.

The idea came about after several hospital employees expressed an interest in making some "green" changes, she said.

"We're one of the largest employers in Washington County," Samuels said. "So we need to be good corporate citizens."

The group of about 20 people meets once a month, exchanging ideas and e-mails on "how we can improve, how we can do better," she said.

Recycling is one of the biggest projects they face, she said.

"We see thousands of people on a yearly basis," she said. "We handle a lot of waste. We want to see how we can do a better job of recycling -- from Styrofoam and plastic ware in the cafeteria to large cardboard boxes in delivery."

Samuels said green changes especially will be evident when the new regional medical center is completed.

"The biggest thing right now is that we are one of three hospitals in the state that still uses an incinerator," she said. "We realize what that does to the environment. That will soon be a thing of the past."

The new medical center at Robinwood is being built with Earth-friendly construction materials, including wood from recyclable sources, Samuels said, and will feature low-energy light fixtures, energy-efficient windows and outdoor plant areas called bioswales, which allow rainwater to filter through layers of plantings so much less and much cleaner water will go into storm drains.

In addition, the facilities department will oversee a direct digital controls system, where heating, cooling and ventilation can be closely monitored, making for better energy efficiency.

Samuels said it seems fitting that the hospital takes steps to help the environment.

"It's a piece of our larger mission," she said. "We have a responsibility to the community. We also have an obligation not to drain our energy or resources. It's what we should do as health care providers."

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