Building a sustainable, green school

Supe's On

Results of a recent community survey indicate that Oregon Trail School District citizens understand the need for a new high school, and for making energy, safety and security upgrades at our elementary and middle schools. That is very good news.

Our community has also made it clear that they expect a new school to be functional and sustainable, with 'green' characteristics. As the Oregon Trail School District's superintendent, a parent, and a taxpayer, I echo those sentiments.

What is a sustainable, green school?

While the terms 'sustainable' and 'green' are often used interchangeably, they are more complementary than they are synonymous. A green school is designed and built with a focus on achieving a healthy living environment for our students and staff, as well as one that is energy efficient. Sustainability seeks, through the building design, construction and long-term operational practices, to protect our environment for future generations.

According to Merle Kirkley, president of the Council of Educational Facility Planners International, 'Building green is part of a comprehensive effort that includes sustainability, indoor air quality, energy conservation, and all other matters that pertain to the environment and the overall health of students and faculty.' Most importantly, evidence strongly suggests that the operation of sustainable, green schools leads to increased academic performance, decreased absenteeism and significant cost savings.

To achieve our goal of a sustainable, green school requires that we change the way we plan, build and maintain our facilities. This has been a subject of conversation at our citizen-based Facility Task Force meetings and will continue to be discussed as we prepare to place a facility bond before voters next fall.

Exciting learning opportunities

Vocational and technology programs are important to the Oregon Trail community. With that in mind, imagine the career-related learning that could occur when the school building itself is used as a teaching tool. Students and staff will have opportunities to share in a learning environment focused on energy and water conservation, indoor air quality and more. Coupled with the unique learning opportunities provided by our environmental trail, the Oregon Trail School District could become known for our environmental, vocational and technology programs and priorities.

Economic benefits

Green schools sustain long-term economic benefits - from reduced operating and maintenance costs, and from energy tax credits. On average, they use 33 percent less energy and save 32 percent more water. This philosophy of sustainability in all future Oregon Trail facility projects could save the district tens of thousands of dollars per year in operating costs - money that could be redirected to teaching and learning.

The Oregon Trail community has a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to design a high school learning institution that will shape the future of generations to come. This is an exciting time, and I look forward to continued collaboration as we create improved, sustainable, efficient learning environments for all of our students.

Shelley Redinger, Ph.D is superintendent of the Oregon Trail School District.