By Jaime Ortiz, Int'l Assoc. AIA., LEED AP
As city and state deficits continue to deepen, one school district is acting to eliminate costs and set an example for an entire community. The Sweetwater Union High School District, California’s largest secondary school district, located in the southern region of San Diego, California, has begun work on a $644 million modernization bond program, Prop O. The District’s Board of Trustees saw this investment as an opportunity to redefine school building practices and pave the way for a greener community.
Equidistant from San Diego’s vibrant downtown Gaslamp District and the U.S./Mexico International Border, the Sweetwater community is at the center of one of the richest economic and most culturally-diverse zones in the United States. This diversity is reflected in Sweetwater’s student population, which includes Hispanic, Filipino, African-American, Asian and other ethnicities. Approximately half of Sweetwater’s students speak a language other than English at home. The District’s educational community has not only embraced the strength of its diversity, but has also come together in a quest to contribute to the sustainable building movement.
In 2006, the community willingly taxed itself by passing the Prop O bond measure to build a brighter future for their students and the community-at-large. “I see this community’s deep commitment to providing a quality education to their children,” said Congressman Bob Filner. As an educator, former President of the San Diego School Board and former professor at San Diego State University, Congressman Filner is an avid supporter of sustainable building in the educational environment and has been present at many of Prop O’s groundbreaking ceremonies.
The Proposition O bond construction program is a school classroom, safety and repair measure funding the repairs and improvements needed to ensure that the 43,000 middle and high school students and 27,000 adult learners attending Sweetwater schools are in a safe, healthy and quality learning environment.
Phase I of Proposition O construction is addressing nine of the oldest schools in the District. These schools will each be receiving repairs and renovations and have been designed to meet Gold Certification standards in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.
“No other school district in the State of California has nine LEED certified projects in design,” said District Board President Jim Cartmill. “The Prop O Program and Construction Management Team has worked closely with the U.S. Green Building Council and has a dedicated team of LEED professionals who specialize in sustainability design.”
The actions taken by the Board have helped mitigate the energy and environmental impacts of each building project so that they are energy efficient, sustainable, secure, safe, cost-effective, accessible, functional, and productive. Designed to LEED gold standards, each school is expected to reduce water usage by 40 percent, and energy consumption by 25 percent; 50 percent of construction waste will be recycled. In addition, 10 percent of the materials that are being used are made from recycled products.
The sustainable framework put forth with the implementation of Board Resolution 3794 not only reduces operational expenses and provides a healthier school environment, but complements and supports the educational mission of the District.
Educating from Within
“These state-of-the-art facilities will create an environment for students to flourish and inspire them to give back to the community,” said the District’s Superintendent Dr. Jesus M. Gandara. “We appreciate the hard work that has gone into designing an institution that empowers all students to succeed.”
A Green Community
Since the early stages of the bond program, the Prop O team has reached out to over dozens of groups in the San Diego community. Information has been presented regarding green building characteristics, the process, benefits, challenges and best practices of the Prop O construction program. These audiences have included regional elected officials, school officials, business organizations, trade and community organizations, parent and civic groups.
Working with the District, the Prop O Program Management Team is working to create a coalition with South Bay Mayors to implement green school building policy initiatives throughout their cities. The coalition will be part of the Mayors’ Alliance for Green Schools which seeks to strategically harness the leadership and creativity of community leaders across the country to promote the benefits of green schools in their cities and towns.
In 2009, the District was given to opportunity to co-chair the Green Schools Subcommittee for the U.S. Green Building Council-San Diego Chapter (USGBC-SD). The Green Schools Subcommittee serves under the USGBC-SD Advocacy Committee in order to advocate for the adoption of green school design and construction policies by all school districts within San Diego County.
Representatives from the District were invited to participate at the May 2009 Green Meet held by the USGBC-SD. This venue brought together more than 100 stakeholders interested in building healthy and sustainable schools. The District continues to work in collaboration with the USGBC and its green schools education and awareness campaign, designed to educate legislators and schools boards, parents and teachers about the overwhelming benefits of building green, high performance schools.
The Board’s vision of a better future for their students, a better tomorrow for its community, and a new concept for building educational building design has been an inspiration to the Prop O Program and Construction Management Team. The team has been successful in implementing comprehensive green initiatives and will continue to honor them as the foundation of each construction cycle.Jaime Ortiz is the Prop O Bond Program Manager for the Sweetwater Union High School District
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