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New School Designs Mean Better Learning in Better Buildings

Tens of thousands of students across the country will go back to school this fall to find their halls and classrooms turning green – as in environmentally sound and healthy, energy efficient and high performing. Hundreds of thousands of additional students are poised to attend environmentally designed schools within the next few years, according to the U.S. Green Building Council.

As the school year begins, nearly 1,000 school buildings will have met or are seeking LEED certification, with applications growing at a rate of more than one per day. The total number of square feet of LEED certified and registered school space will exceed 100 million square feet as the school year gets underway, according to new figures released today by USGBC.

LEED certification provides parents, teachers and communities with a “report card” for school buildings – verifying that a school was built to meet the highest level of energy and environmental performance. Through July, more than eight million square feet of school space are certified LEED while another 90 million square feet of projects are registered with USGBC. Registered status applies to projects before they are completed and applications are finalized.

“Schools across the country are going green,” said Rachel Gutter, education sector senior manager for USGBC. The non-profit Council administers the LEED Green Building Rating System for schools as well as for homes, affordable housing, offices, hospitals and other buildings nationwide. “Green schools save operating costs for the district, create a better workplace for teachers, provide a healthier learning environment for students, and support a more sustainable community. Every school in America needs to be green, and increasingly our school boards, teachers, PTAs and students are demanding it.”

Public or private schools in 50 states have turned to the LEED for Schools program for new or renovated buildings, as educators and school leaders increasingly see environmental building as a way to improve air quality for students, teachers and communities while also cutting energy and water costs. Maryland, Hawaii, New Jersey, Illinois, Florida, Ohio, Washington, Connecticut and the District of Columbia already require new schools be built green; California and Pennsylvania offer strong incentives to follow environmental specifications.

Case study analysis of completed LEED certified schools show the facilities use 33 percent less energy, saving 32 percent more water and reducing solid waste by 74 percent, compared to traditional school buildings.

On average, green schools save $100,000 per year, enough to hire two new teachers, buy 200 new computers or purchase 5,000 new textbooks, according to the report “Greening America’s Schools: Costs & Benefits” by Gregory Kats of Capital E, a national clean energy technology and green building firm. Another study in North Carolina by Heschong Mahone found that students in classrooms with the most daylight had consistently higher test scores by 7-18 percent.

And green schools’ carefully planned acoustics and abundant daylight make it easier and more comfortable for students to learn and for teachers to teach. According to case studies profiled in “Greening America’s Schools,” cleaner indoor air cuts down sick days for students and teachers alike, as green schools commonly report reductions in teacher absenteeism and teacher turnover.

Green schools even provide a wealth of hands-on learning opportunities, where the school itself becomes an interactive teaching tool.

“Twenty percent of America goes to school every day,” said Michelle Moore, USGBC senior vice president. “There is no better or more important place for us to demonstrate as a society that we can have a more sustainable future.”

Green schools are popping up everywhere from urban America to rural areas, in both private and public schools. Among the examples:

  • Ohio now requires all new schools and major renovations to earn LEED certification, with 250 green school projects slated to begin in the next two years.
  • All new schools in Chicago will be built green, like the Tarkington School of Excellence, where sixth grader Christian Torres doesn’t need an inhaler any longer - at his old school, he used it several times a day.
  • Increasing numbers of school districts and private schools are committing to building new facilities and retrofitting existing ones following the LEED for Schools rating system. Districts from Charlotte County, Florida, to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to Anchorage, Alaska, are taking part.
  • New Orleans is rebuilding public schools green following the disaster of Hurricane Katrina. As Greensburg, Kansas works to recover from the devastating May 2007 tornado, every new building in the town, including the schools, will be built following LEED guidelines.

Complete lists of schools meeting or registered for LEED certification can be found at

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