Magazine article Momentum

Michigan School Starts a New Life by Going GREEN

Magazine article Momentum

Michigan School Starts a New Life by Going GREEN

Article excerpt

How a 50-year-old school came to be a cool, nationally recognized "green school"

In Sept. 2, Pope Benedict XVI addressed hundreds of thousands of young people gathered in Loreto, Italy. "Before it's too late," he urged in his homily, "we need to make courageous choices that will create a strong alliance between man and earth. We need a derisive 'yes' to care for creation and a strong commitment to reverse those trends that risk making the situation of decay irreversible."

Two days after the Loreto Mass, the students of Brighton, Michigan's, St. Patrick School (grades 1-8) began the second academic year in a facility that, by its very design, each and every day delivers the "decisive yes" Pope Benedict called for.

How and why did a 50-year-old school nestled in what was, until a scant few years back, regarded by the U.S. Census Bureau as a "rural" community, come to be a cool, nationally recognized "green school"?

As for the "whys," it may be an overstatement to say this new school facility was born of the sort of "courageous choices" the Pope mentioned. Courage probably was evident more in the "hows," as St. Patrick School Principal Lorelei Darga, whose duties came to include showing up to work in a hard hat for a crash course in noflush urinals, might likely attest.

The "whys" behind the greening of St. Patrick School were really about something far more basic, more practical. It was simply a sensible thing to do-for the students and faculty, for the community, and (to the surprise of some) for the school's bottom line. That St. Patrick was from Ireland, and the school's team name is the Shamrocks, is just a lucky bonus.

Began with a Problem

The truth is, this whole endeavor began with a problem. The community had grown considerably, but the school couldn't expand. St. Pat's was hemmed in; expansion of its former location was impossible. With a student body of 240, the building already threatened to burst at the seams and at least 100 more families were on a waiting list.

So, the school began searching out a new site, resolute to remain in the city of Brighton, where it long had been a vital part of the community. As luck would have it, an office building had just become available on a 13-acre, heavily treed site with access to a small lake on the west side, a city park on the east-a great environment for a school. The facility itself was well built, with a steel frame, lots of windows and a brick exterior. At 36,000 square feet, it was a bit small, but additions were possible.

For site selection and design, the school worked with Lindhout Associates Architects (LAA), who, incidentally, happened to be a member of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Seeing that the site so thoroughly lent itself to such an approach, LAA suggested giving the idea of a green school some consideration. And how about working toward the USGBC's LEED (Leader in Energy and Environmental Design) certification as well? (The school will, indeed, be awarded the certification after a required occupancy time period has passed.) It wasn't a tough sell-not when all involved were presented with the myriad advantages of a green school.

Clearly, the most important of these advantages is to the students and faculty. A 2006 "Capital E Report" on its national review of 30 green schools revealed that "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 stated, "few states regulate indoor air quality in schools or provide for minimum ventilation standard." It concluded, "Not surprisingly, a large number of studies have found that schools across the country are unhealthy-increasing illness and absenteeism and bringing down test scores."

Another study-a Ph.D. thesis on Pennsylvania's Clearview Elementary School (a green school)-found that among students moved from a conventional school building to their new green facility, there was a 19 percent increase in average student oral reading fluency scores compared to the prior conventional school. …

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