It goes without saying that we should be teaching our children about important environmental matters, especially excessive energy consumption and the need for energy efficiency. But what about the energy that a school itself consumes? While it is a rarely-thought-of area for improvement, new efforts are underway to begin greening public schools.
Net-zero public schools starting in the capital
John Lewis Elementary School and the Benjamin Banneker Academic High School are the city’s first net-zero schools. They will only consume as much energy as they produce on-site.
These schools boast impressive sustainability features, prioritizing natural lighting and flowing fresh air, with expansive windows and a beefed-up ventilation system. Geothermal wells beneath the playground provide heating and cooling. Cafeteria kitchens use electric instead of gas stoves. They are also in the process of contracting a solar developer to install solar panels across their rooftops to offset energy use. They also involve the students in their green efforts as a learning opportunity.
“Students can see bar charts of how much energy their building is generating and consuming — for the kitchen, for the mechanical systems, and for the lights,” says Juan Guarin, a sustainability expert at the architecture firm Perkins Eastman. “We also try to use it to teach topics like climate change, social and environmental justice, and human health.”
These new green initiatives with these schools are part of the city’s Capital Improvement Plan, part of a larger plan to make schools energy efficient. Behind teachers’ salaries, energy expenses are schools’ second biggest cost. The Department of Energy launched a $500 million grant program in April under the administration’s new infrastructure package to make schools more energy efficient and encourage greening efforts such as those in DC.
This shift toward renewable resources and energy efficiency for public schools not only helps the planet now, but it makes environmental action part of a school’s curriculum and reduces costs for public schools, enabling them to devote more funds toward education and teacher salaries.