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Schools could save money and raise
educational standards by going green

By Brian Baker

10 February 2007: US cities signed up for climate change action, already having a robust and challenging relationship with school district boards in their areas, will be interested in the late 2006 report on the costs and impact on educational performance of sustainable buildings.

Issued at the US Green Building Council conference in Denver in November the report, 'Greening America's Schools Costs and Benefits' was produced by Capital E for the USGBC and other health, teaching and design bodies.

The report assesses 30 schools in 10 different states built to sustainable building standards between 2002 and 2006. Report author Gregory Kats says “ We worked with the architects of the 30 schemes to assess how much it would have cost to build them to the minimum code standard. The premium was on average around $3 a sq ft.”

“With electricity and gas consumption savings at 33 per cent that equates to just four years to recover the premium solely on energy costs, “ he said.

Factor in reduced water and waste treatment costs and the actual payback period would be less. And the evidence of educational and health benefits from the 30 schools and other data is most compelling.

Kats says “we calculate that typically there will be $70 a sq ft in benefits over 20 years.” Those include a large amount projected from increased earnings by former students but even when that is omitted the analysis suggests net financial benefits of around $23 a sqft Since the report does not attempt to quantify operations and maintenance cost reductions over the 20 years that may rise to closer to $30 a sqft in some of the schools.

One of the 30 schools is Third Creek Elementary at Statesville in North Carolina. The new building, which opened in 2002, replaced two older ones nearby. There were no changes in pupil catchment. Yet, in the first full year, test passes in Maths and English jumped from 60 per cent to 80 per cent.

In the first two years after opening Third Creek achieved the highest rates of performance improvement in Iredell County’s 32 schools. Third Creek was the first elementary school in the country to achieve enough points to be accredited as a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold building.

The report cites reductions in staff and student absences in schools with healthy environments including high levels of natural lighting and ventilation. At one of the 30 schools, Clearview Elementary in Pennsylvania, completed in 2002, there was subsequently a 12 per cent reduction in teacher absences. Savings in cost of substitute teachers at this scale over a building life cycle would equate to $2 a sq. ft of the initial cost. The school secured a LEED Silver award rating. There were also improvements in student test scores.

At Ash Creek Intermediate school in Oregon, also completed in 2002 and LEED certified, there was a 15 per cent reduction in student absenteeism subsequently. A review by Carnegie Mellon which found improved indoor air quality reduced influenza and colds incidence by as much as 50 per cent is cited in the Capital E report as probably the principal factor in improving attendance levels.

Boora Architects designed Canby School, also in Oregon, which opened in 2006. It has sufficient LEED points to achieve the gold standard certification but the initial construction cost was the same as it would have cost to construct it to local building code requirements. The life cycle costs are much lower as it achieves energy savings of 47 per cent and includes very low maintenance exterior surfaces and flooring.

The report cites research for the Washington State Legislature in 2005, which concluded that green schools provide a working environment, which cuts turnover of teachers by 5 per cent. Over 20 years this higher teacher retention would equate with savings worth $4 per sq ft on the initial cost.
US GBC Chief Executive Richard Fedrizzi says “within 15 years the savings across the nation from all schools being of green standard would exceed $100 billion. School Boards have fallen into the misinformation that it costs too much to do this. To often we hear that in school districts nobody listens when the poor ventilation is raised. There is now significant proof that it costs no more to design and build green so why not!” 

World Mayor 2023