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Area schools going green in construction and in the classroom

April 21, 2010|By JENNIFER FITCH
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TRI-STATE -- Elementary, middle and high schools across the Tri-State are getting serious about energy by installing geothermal wells, recycling cafeteria waste and turning off lights.

The moves are not only designed to reduce utility costs and help the environment, but to provide lessons about sustainable living for students.

"It's interesting the impact a 7-year-old can have on a lot of things families do, whether it's turning off the lights or recycling the trash," said Manny Arvon, superintendent of Berkeley County (W.Va.) Schools.

Berkeley County Schools is building Spring Mills Primary School to U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. It could become the first LEED-certified school in West Virginia, Arvon said.

The 65,000-square-foot school will incorporate recycled building materials and a geothermal well tied into the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system, Arvon said.

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That geothermal system will be similar to the one installed when the Waynesboro (Pa.) Area School District renovated and expanded its high school. Geothermal units were installed at Eastern Elementary School and the new Antietam Academy in Washington County.

Washington County Public Schools energy management specialist, Dale Diller, examines energy consumption at the school system's 48 buildings, which total 3.3 million square feet. Diller meets with the Superintendent's Energy Advisory Council and staff to talk about ways to conserve energy, and he's retrofitted more than 10,000 light fixtures to use less power.

"The students sometimes come up with ideas on their own. We get everybody involved," Diller said.

Students who learned about composting at Claud Kitchens Outdoor School at Fairview encouraged school officials to compost food waste at a couple of buildings, according to Jeff Proulx, superintendent of food and nutrition services.

Washington County's school system worked with the Mid-Atlantic Dairy Association to switch from coated paperboard milk cartons to plastic bottles, which are recycled after use. Grant funds from the dairy association allowed kindergarten through eighth-grade schools to start using plastic, five-compartment cafeteria trays that can be washed, instead of disposable trays. Some of the plastic bowls previously used in those buildings were taken to the high schools.

"We've got reusable trays and bowls in every school," Proulx said, noting that South Hagerstown High School still uses some Styrofoam containers because of its self-service design.

The cafeterias in Washington County schools, which serve 12,500 meals a day, use comingled recycling bins that can accept glass, aluminum, plastics, cans and boxes.

"We're only sending the trash to the landfills," Proulx said.

Jefferson County, W.Va., is incorporating "green" building techniques into construction of a new elementary school on Jobs Corps Road. Contractors added extra, high-quality insulation at that building and others, according to Ralph Dinges, assistant superintendent of maintenance, construction and facilities.

The new buildings have technology to control temperature and lights depending on whether a room is in use, he said.

"We have occupancy sensors in both buildings," Dinges said.

Teachers at Shepherdstown and C.W. Shipley elementary schools in Jefferson County say the new HVAC systems better control temperature, plus their refrigeration systems use less energy, Dinges said.

"We've already seen the electric bill go down a bit," he said.

For Chambersburg Area School District in Franklin County, Pa., turning off the lights in unoccupied rooms and corridors has made a big difference. The district has realized 26 percent cost savings and a 25 percent reduction in electric usage since starting an Energy Education Inc. program.

"We are over the $1 million mark (in estimated savings) for 31 months. ... This all really adds up," said Connie Kelley, energy manager.

Chambersburg, which was designated an Energy Star leader, turned to common sense in its "going green" initiative. Kelley rewards employees who turn off electronics when not in use, rather than asking the cash-strapped district to purchase wind turbines or solar panels.

"You can be green by cutting your energy usage," Kelley said.

Maintenance Supervisor Dave Zentmeyer recycled windows from Chambersburg Area Senior High School and moved them to Guilford Hills Elementary School when the high school construction project started. Fifteen of the buildings were recognized by Energy Star for 2009.

James Buchanan High School in Mercersburg, Pa., is in the midst of a $14.2 million renovation project. As part of that, the school will be fitted with sky tubes that allow for more natural light, dimmers to control lights, and plumbing updates, including dual-flush toilets that use different amounts of water depending on handle motion.

"The whole building is going to be so much greener," Principal Rodney Benedick said.

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