One of the first studies to confirm a relationship between a school’s physical condition and student performance was a 1999 study conducted by the Heschong Mahone Group, which concluded that students with the best daylighting in their classrooms progressed 20 percent faster on math tests and 26 percent faster on reading tests than those with the worst daylighting. Effective daylighting strategies also reduced both lighting and cooling loads, saving energy and thousands of dollars per year for school systems. In national efforts to improve public education and health, create jobs, and power our future with renewable energy, high performance green schools are widely seen as a logical place to start.
Section 14003 of ARRA created a State Fiscal Stabilization Fund in the Department of Education that includes $8.8 billion that may be used for the “modernization, renovation, or repair of public school facilities, including modernization, renovation, and repairs that are consistent with a recognized green building rating system.” In addition, the Department of Energy’s $3.2 billion Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant program and the $3.1 billion State Energy Program allow states, cities, counties, and tribes to allocate grants for energy efficiency and renewable energy measures in public buildings, including public and private non-profit schools.
On April 30, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing to discuss how funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) may be used to improve the learning environment for students and teachers, save energy, reduce operating expenses, protect the environment, and strengthen communities. This briefing described what makes a school “high performance” and green––from superior indoor air quality to water efficiency––and how setting priorities early can allow school districts to reap the most benefits within their standard construction budget. Speakers also discussed the importance of using green building features to teach students about science and sustainability. Finally, the panel shed light on ARRA and other funding sources for school facilities and explained how communities can use them to maximum advantage.
- The briefing focused on K-12 school buildings. "Kids represent 25 percent of our population and 100 percent of our future."
- The average age of schools is 43 years. Children are going to school in literally crumbling buildings (e.g. cases of plaster falling from ceilings, rotting, inoperable windows, leaky plumbing, mold).
- "High performance" is “beyond green”. It involves the consideration of several design objectives important to school districts, including accessibility, aesthetics, cost effectiveness, functionality, health and productivity, historic preservation, safety and security -- in addition to sustainability.
- Improving school buildings nationwide can support and improve academic performance, create green jobs, and ensure a sustainable energy future by teaching students about their high performance green buildings.
- Over the life of a school building, the cost of operation and maintenance is 10 times the initial cost of construction. School financing and procurement policies should recognize that energy efficient construction and renovation will save energy and money.
- A design approach that integrates all building components is essential to optimizing energy performance, but daylighting in particular has been shown to improve student test scores and reduce cooling load.
- Every school should be able to incorporate some on-site renewable energy generation such as a small photovoltaic system. Energy monitoring devices should accompany these systems as a teaching tool.
- Teachers, parents, administrators, maintenance staff, and community leaders should be included in early planning meetings with school officials, government leaders, and the design professionals to make high performance/green a priority within any budget.
- According to CEFPI, Governors are primarily using funds from the ARRA State Stabilization Fund for personnel stop-losses, not facility improvements.
- ARRA provides new funding ($22 billion) for Qualified School Construction Bonds, which CEFPI believes will help many school districts acquire land and construct or repair facilities.
- Congress should consider ways to help school districts build high performance schools. For example, consider providing a pool of funding for local governments with zero percent interest.
- We need federal leadership. Congress can help change the culture by prioritizing energy efficiency, environmental protection, and the money that can be saved by reducing energy use.