What we think: Healthy schools, healthy people

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2007

As Cabarrus County designs a new high school and Rowan and Kannapolis school systems gear up for more growth, here’s one word leaders should keep in mind: Green.

Schools built with green concepts in mind are better for the environment and could even be better for the health and performance of people in them, according to several reports.

A good place for school planners to start is “Greening America’s Schools: Costs and Benefits,” an October 2006 report sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers, the American Institute of Architects, the American Lung Association, the Federation of American Scientists and the U.S. Green Building Council.

Studying data from 30 schools built on green principles — including Third Creek Elementary in Statesville — researchers found that initial costs were less than 2 percent more than for conventional schools. But the financial benefits after construction were much greater.

“Greening school design provides an extraordinarily cost-effective way to enhance student learning, reduce health and operational costs and, ultimately, increase school quality and competitiveness,” the report says. When all is said and done, it found financial savings of about $70 per square foot. Twelve dollars of that is direct, resulting from lower energy and water costs, improved teacher retention and lowered health costs.

Third Creek in States-ville is a good example of steps designers can take to make a school more environmentally friendly. According to the school’s Web site, some of its green features include:

* A natural wetland to slow and filter stormwater runoff before it reaches a nearby stream.

* Additional landscaping and specific roofing materials to keep the building and parking lots cooler, lessening “urban heat island effect.”

* Orienting the building site to maximize natural daylighting in the indoor classrooms.

* “Waterless” urinals, low-flow automatic spigots and other innovations to reduce water and energy consumption.

* Wall paint with a lower gas toxicity and less odor.

* Energy recovery ventilation to dehumidify and constantly freshen the air.

* High energy-efficient, water-source heat pumps for heating and cooling.

* Wooden doors certified to come from environmentally responsible forests where clear-cutting is not done.

* High recycled content in the building’s concrete.

* Even the mulch used in the landscaping comes from trees that had to be cut down to build on the site.

Come to think of it, these would be good principles to incorporate into any building, including those on the N.C. Research Campus. Buildings that are friendly to the environment are friendly to humans, too, and to their pocketbooks.