Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

November 12, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

Green Schools


  • Hear what Rick Fedrizzi, the President, CEO and Founding Chairman of the U.S. Green Building Council has to say about his organization’s efforts to encourage sustainable building practices and why one of his top priorities is green schools. Not only are they good for the environment, Fedrizzi says they also keep kids healthy and help them perform better academically. Visit Verrado High School in Buckeye, just celebrated it’s designation as a LEED silver school. Local leaders in the green schools movement will discuss the challenges and benefits of building sustainable schools in Arizona.
Guests:
  • Rick Fedrizzi - President, CEO and Founding Chairman, U.S. Green Building Council
  • Leslie Lindo - Co-founder, Sonoran Sustainable Building Advisor Program and Chair, LEED for Schools Committee of the USGBC AZ chapter
  • Doug McCord - USGBC Arizona Chapter Chair and AZ Advocate for Green Schools
Category: Sustainability

View Transcript
Ted Simons: Good evening and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. Nearly 25,000 people from all over the world are at the Phoenix convention center for the green build expo. Former president Al Gore spoke and hundreds of companies are showing off their ideas including one company who says they can plant foliage over an entire building. As we continue our series on green building, we take a look at the education arena and look at why advocates are touting the benefits of green schools.

Rick Fedrizzi: Where kids don't feel they're being marginalized, we might have found the holy grail of the green building movement.

David Majure: At a recent event sponsored by Valley Forward, President and CEO of the U.S. Green Building Council, Rick Fedrizzi, made a pitch for green schools.

Rick Fedrizzi: Because I honestly believe it's the very best example we have as a species, to say that we took one idea, it's a good idea. If we applied green building to everything, which we will some day, that's terrific. In the progress of all of that, we need to pick something to nurture and that should be green schools.

Rick Fedrizzi: That's something that I hope in the next five to ten years we don't have to talk about because it would be against the law to not build a green school. 20% of America population goes to school every day. K-12, all the way through colleges and when you look at that part of the population going to a building stock where 95% of today built to building code, you realize we have a terrific imbalance, when you realize that kids in green schools perform better and have a 28% reading retention and reduction in respiratory illnesses and realize that the building itself, the school, the environment, can create for a peaceful location where the teacher and child maybe for the first time have a terrific opportunity to communicate on a level they couldn't before.

David Majure: That may be happening at Verrado High School in Buckeye. After being awarded a LEED silver rating by the US Green Building Council, a celebration was held.

Jessica Lawrence: I think we can agree that mediocrity is not the word we would use to describe Verrado High School. From vision to design and construction to completion, excellence has been the goal.

John Schmadeke: We built it as a teaching tool so you can look at how the systems are constructed and everything is open as possible, we can do it safely and we've created an open learning environment where you see a lot of glass windows and the inside that not only emit light through the building but allow students to see in and what's going on. The auditorium we just came from has no walls. We have a very open environment and this part of the school. These are the general core classrooms. And as we the rest of the school, we have elective and specialty classrooms more traditional in design but this is where it begins with the general academics.

Tom Huffman: First of all, this is a beautiful building. It's comfortable and clean healthy air and good lighting and sound quality. Every penny national green features in our school save can be used to support teaching and learning which is what it place is about, rather than paying utility bills and we're teaching our students the importance of protecting our environment and saving our natural resources. Our building is and will continue to grow as a teaching tool.

David Majure: It's the second LEED high school to sprout up in the Agua Fria School District.

John Schmadeke: There are those who argue that it's too expensive or too hard, but we've proven that if you put stamina into it that you can succeed at very little additional cost.

David Majure: The project cost about $37 million and state funding did not complete cover the cost but the district says its next green high school can be built with state dollars only.

John Schmadeke: The biggest challenge is getting people to look long term, it's like paying it forward. Like in your personal life, you pay it forward and some day you'll be rewarded. The results in the future will more than pay for the cost and I think that basically, the benefits to society through energy efficiency and reducing our consumption will go on year after year and amount to many, many times what it costs to do an efficient building.

David Majure: Efficiencies included heating and cooling systems, the use of daylight and compact fluorescent lights in the school and gym. And a demand-based ventilation system.

John Schmadeke: This monitors the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and as the air gets stale, the monitor will detect that and cause more outside air to be brought into the room to freshen the air. Unless it's automated you're continuously bringing in all of that outside air. It costs a ton of money in Arizona to cool that air.

David Majure: Plus, solar power will eventually provide half of the school's energy needs.

John Schmadeke: We've seen the school is at least 30% more efficient than other average schools and we have three other schools. This is where all school districts should be.

David Majure: He won't get any argument from the USGBC.

Rick Fedrizzi: It's the only way. Through command and control PTAs, I don't care. Green schools we need separately.

Ted Simons: We hear from Leslie Lindo and Doug McCord who serve as advocates in Arizona for the U.S. green building council. Earlier, I spoke with them about the value of green schools.

Ted Simons: Thank you both for being here tonight on "Horizon." Leslie start with you, what makes a school a green school.

Leslie Lindo: I would say the most important factor is creating a healthier learning environment for the students and also one that is more energy efficient and uses less water so we're minimizing the amount of resources that we're drawing for the school.

Ted Simons: Is there, Doug, a firm definition of what a green school has to be?

Doug McCord: That's what the U.S. green building council tried to address in the mid '90s, people were doing a couple of things and saying we have a green project and created a rating system to give a comprehensive overview of what a green project could be, which applies to the schools as well as. How it uses energy and what materials and resources go in a school as well as the human performance characteristics all create a green picture of what a green project should be.

Ted Simons: We've heard that kids in green schools perform better on tests and retention and even in terms of physical health. Do you buy that?

Leslie Lindo: Yes, absolutely. We have a lot of case studies that are demonstrating that. A lot is coming from the natural lighting and views into the school often see better performance on math and reading comprehension and it's been a focus with our school and focusing on indoor quality, as little as -- 38%, we've seen a drop in asthma.

Ted Simons: Is it as simple as saying a healthier kid will get a better education?

Doug McCord: That's a way to put it. We knew these things as designers, that daylight and healthy interiors were go to people. And it took studies in the mid '90s that these make appreciable differences. So a high performance environment definitely improves children's performance, as well as teacher performace. And it's not just about the kids.

Ted Simons: Are education officials buying into it?

Doug McCord: I think educational leaders definitely buy into it, they see the mission of the school is actually student performance and so to have -- have infrastructure that supports that mission in the best way possible is -- is really a no brain decision. Sure.

Ted Simons: Leslie, what about public officials though?

Leslie Lindo: We are actually seeing some of the public officials supporting it but it's such a wide base that we need to reach in terms of creating the awareness and benefits. There are a lot of misconceptions of what it means and what it costs and we need to talk to not only the schools and public officials but also the parents and get on the district level. That's what we focus on in the work we do.

Ted Simons: And as far as challenges here in Arizona, talk to us -- check that. Before we do that, compare and contrast Arizona to other regions of the country as far as green schools are concerned.

Leslie Lindo: Well, I would say that we are actually making headway here. We have some in the districts that are pioneering and getting behind it. There's tough schools already LEED certified and they have a mission to continue to certify and they're looking at some of their existing buildings and seeing what they can do with that. It's nice to see the pioneers we have in this area.

Doug McCord: And there are groundbreaking, actually, in Arizona. I think I'm correct in saying, I think that New Jersey has a law that says they're schools need to be LEED certified silver. So there are regions of the country a lot more progressive, but it really comes down to funding because when we look at -- look at the comparison how much we spend for educational facilities in Arizona, compared to other places, it's substantially less and you need a base level of funding that allows architects and designers and engineers to make intelligent decisions to make a school operate in a high-performance manner. I feel we're doing the best job we can in Arizona but we need that motivation and dedication to make it better.

Ted Simons: Sounds like funding is the biggest challenge.

Leslie Lindo: I would say funding as well as awareness. People understanding what it means.

Ted Simons: As far as the cost to build a green school, let's start with initial outlay and then future costs. The initial cost -- more expensive?

Leslie Lindo: It can be. It depends on the project. The Agua Fria district has a school they have on the shelf right now but they're able to fund that whole school on their normal budget they have to create that new school. But really even when we do have more upfront costs the most important factor to look at is the cost over the life cycle of the building. And that's where we're seeing our savings and that reduces your operating costs and when you're saving that money along the way, we can put that back into our educational system.

Ted Simons: Is that a tough sell to say I know it costs X now but it's X minus Y later.

Doug McCord: It is a tough sell because it's a short-sighted view of how to value the school. How do you value your students' performance and less sickness and teacher retention? When you start to factor all of those things in the project, the payback is within a couple of years and then the benefits to our communities and education system and taxpayers, sort of accrues for every year after that. But making that case, because that's the number one myth we have to face. All green schools cost a lot more money and they really don't have to if you have the dedication and the motivation upfront to do it correctly, hire the right team and be committed all along the way.

Leslie Lindo: Start early.

Doug McCord: Start early.

Ted Simons: Yeah. LEED certification, is that necessary? Is it something that has to be done, A, and B, can you get a good healthy sustainable school without that LEED certification?

Leslie Lindo: If you have the right team who understand the principle, yes, you can get a school without the certification, the benefit of a LEED certification is really the third-party verification. Making sure that you're doing what you said you're going to do and if somebody has sustainable goals in mind, for the end result, along the way, if something comes up, well, we don't have the money for that or we got the wrong material, that's ok, we'll put it here be because the rest the building is good, that's not going to happen with a LEED building.

Doug McCord: To add to that, it's not necessary, but like the Scottsdale unified school district, they have wonderful leadership who know how to do high-performance school buildings. But a lot of school districts, they need to know how to do it. The second thing, if you don't measure it, how do you know how you did? What are things you can do better the next time around and I think that's really where the benefits of LEED certification comes in. That and the third-party verification.

Ted Simons: How about the greening of existing schools? Retrofitting, these things? Let's talk costs and let's talk the will to do so.

Leslie Lindo: Well, it's really -- it's down to the same thing. You are going to have your upfront costs that come with that, an of that comes with changing out your systems and a little bit of the building envelope and you have to welcome at the long-term costs as well when you're going into it. If you're having a healthy environment for students and teachers, so you have less turnover. That's saving money there. That's what we consider a soft cost but the operations costs are huge when you actually make those retrofits within the schools and that's when you're seeing return on investment. We have about 30-35% less in energy costs in our green schools. If you can save that money, that's money you can put back into other areas of your school.

Ted Simons: Can you make an existing school as sustainably correct as a new building?

Doug McCord: It's a lot more difficult but it's still doable. But I think it answers a big question of equity. Because a lot of times we go into a school district and say if I do this one new green school, everyone will want to go there. And it's a great way to bring schools up to a parity, to make sure that all kids are in a high-performance environment and teachers and there's not the reticence to go head and the next school will be a high-performance green school.

Ted Simons: Is there a will in Arizona to build, construct and live with green schools? Or is it something that, again, you're going to have to keep working on as far as education and awareness?

Doug McCord: I think it is education and awareness. There are too many myths out there about what green schools are about, which is why we like to call them high-performance schools because there's a lot of connotations that comes with green that can be political even. And it's really about allowing children and teachers and staff perform at their highest level and doing senator things with our dollars and doesn't have to cost a lot more at all. How do we define that mission and carry it forward and do the things we know we should be doing?

Ted Simons: Are you seeing that will in Arizona?

Leslie Lindo: It's interesting, I had a teacher come into a gallery that we designed that shows an example of a green classroom and the first thing she noticed was a window. And she's like, I haven't had a window in a classroom in 30 years. When we talk about the psychological impact on the students as well as the teachers, yes, once they have that information they absolutely want it and they don't know how to make it happen and have their voices heard and really, our mission is to help them voice that will.

Ted Simons: And having the green build coverage in town has to help?

Leslie Lindo: Absolutely, it's heightened the awareness. Whether you're talking about schools, residences or commercial buildings. That's our main drive throughout the entire green build. All right. Very good. Thank you for joining us.

Both: Thank you.

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