By Jaime Ortiz, AIA
The Mayors’ Alliance for Green Schools was established in response to a resolution at the 2007 U.S. Conference of Mayors calling for green schools for all children within a generation. The Alliance highlights the many opportunities that exist to make the nation’s schools greener, students and teachers healthier, and communities stronger. Initiated by Mayor Manny Diaz of Miami and Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle in partnership with the US Green Building Council (USGBC), the Alliance recognizes that if the goal is to provide a high-quality education for children, the school environment itself must reflect and support excellence.
Leadership at a local level is vital to ensuring that students are in high-performing schools that offer natural comfortable learning environments. High performance schools meld the very best of today's design strategies and building technologies because they require less spending for energy and water, significantly saving taxpayer dollars. By uniting around the common goal of green schools, mayors have the ability to make a considerable impact on the nation’s educational priorities as well as the need for resource conservation.
Sustainable working and learning environments increase faculty, staff, and student retention. Good acoustics in classrooms ensure that teachers can be heard clearly by all students, increasing scholastic productivity. Natural daylight is maximized to create a learning environment for students to thrive in. Green schools incorporate improved indoor air quality and controlled climate, as well as providing learning opportunities for students through these technologies. These seemingly non-monetary benefits are integral in the overall savings for a school district in that absences decrease, while learning and test scores increase. Research also indicates that teachers are happier when they have the ability to control their environments and healthy, happy teachers save schools money.
Announcing their participation in the Mayors’ Alliance for Green Schools at Chula Vista High School are (from left): California State Architect David Thorman, US Green Building Council’s San Diego Executive Director Doug Kot, Sweetwater Union High School District Board President Arlie N. Ricasa, Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox, Imperial Beach Mayor Jim Janney, National City Mayor Ron Morrison and Sweetwater Union High School District Superintendent Dr. Jesus M. Gandara.
The benefits of green schools, while substantial, aren’t just for schools and students. Building green has extensive financial, social, and environmental benefits. The reduction of electricity and energy consumption helps decrease our nation’s dependence on fossil fuels. The great majority of all electricity is produced from non-renewable sources – and with nearly three quarters of all electricity consumed in the U.S. used for heating, cooling, lighting, and appliances in buildings, the adoption of green building practices is more crucial than ever before.
Mayors’ Alliance in San Diego
San Diego is taking a holistic approach to sustainable building and making major strides within the movement. Most recently, four mayors from San Diego County joined the Mayors’ Alliance for Green Schools. San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders, Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox, National City Mayor Ron Morrison and Imperial Beach Mayor Jim Janney have joined the coalition, which seeks to make green schools a national priority. By joining the Alliance, the San Diego mayors will participate in national mayoral discussions regarding public-private partnerships to fund green schools; propose city-wide legislative changes to encourage sustainable building; prompt student-led initiatives for greening schools and learn about successful local efforts. The San Diego coalition of mayors now makes up nearly 10 percent of the 46-member national alliance – creating momentum not only within their communities, but inspiring the region to follow in their footsteps.
Green Schools Resolutions
Each of the four cities passed a green schools resolution, and they were subsequently recognized by California State Architect David Thorman in a press conference. “In addition to creating healthier educational facilities and improved teaching spaces, building green allows school districts to make a significant impact on California’s energy efficiency,” said Thorman. “By adopting guidelines to enable and encourage schools to be resource and energy efficient, cities like Chula Vista, National City, and Imperial Beach are not only designing and building schools to higher sustainability standards, but also making important strides to reduce overall consumption.” He commended the mayors for aligning their city goals with those of the Governor, and he also challenged them to find ways to make schools in their cities grid neutral.
The three mayors currently preside over cities that lie within the boundaries of the Sweetwater Union High School District, the largest secondary school district in California. With many of the District campuses nearly a half a century old, the mayors saw the necessity to make schools in their region healthier and more energy efficiency by implementing green building technologies. Acknowledging that schools are the very foundations on which a community grows, the San Diego mayors united under the premise that elevating the educational community would greatly enrich the County. “We have the opportunity to provide our students with not only sustainable school facilities, but a chance to learn first-hand about what makes them green. The future workforce of San Diego will now be educated on water and energy savings, something that is priceless to this community,” said National City Mayor Ron Morrison.
Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox has been long-time proponent of green building initiatives, having created the first citywide Green Building Standard in San Diego County. Under Mayor Cox’s supervision, the City of Chula Vista has partnered with San Diego Gas & Electric to offer free energy evaluations and minor retrofits for residents and businesses. This has generated nearly $1 million in utility bill savings for the city. “Chula Vista has been looking to make South Bay greener for years and joining a group of mayors looking to do this for our schools is a natural next step,” said Mayor Cox. “With the District’s Board of Trustees backing our desire for healthier schools, I am reassured that we are one step closer to a sustainable school community.”
Green Schools Bond
The Sweetwater Union High School District is currently undergoing a $644 million modernization project under the Prop O bond program, which includes the modernization of 14 high schools, 12 middle schools and 5 alternative educational facilities- all receiving retrofits for energy efficiency. All Phase I schools have been designed to meet a minimum of the USGBC’s LEED Gold designation. These include Chula Vista Middle School, Chula Vista High School, National City Middle School, Southwest High School, Southwest Middle School, Montgomery High School, Mar Vista High School, Sweetwater High School and Hilltop High School. Phase I schools are expected to be completed in early 2012.
This is the largest green building program of a school district in the state of California. Each school will reduce water usage by 40 percent, energy consumption by 25 percent, and 90 percent of construction waste will be recycled. Additionally, 10 percent of all materials used will be from recycled materials.
“The strides made by the District in addition to the Prop O construction team’s attention to detail, have raised the bar for cities around the nation,” said SUHSD Board President Arlie Ricasa at a recent Mayors’ Alliance for Green Schools Press Conference. “But I challenge the construction teams to design the remaining District projects to achieve LEED Platinum ratings.” LEED Platinum refers to the highest USGBC green building rating.
Phase II of Prop O construction at Sweetwater Union High School District is expected to begin in late 2011, where architects and designers are working diligently to create the first all LEED-Platinum project in a school district.
By pursuing their vision for responsible, sustainable design, the mayors of San Diego have taken their green aspirations to new heights. The San Diego coalition of mayors are joining forces with mayors around the nation to make a monumental impact on the educational community and the future of our nation’s resources.
Jaime Ortiz is the Prop O Program Manager and Vice President of SGI Construction Management. He currently serves as Co-Chair of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Green Schools Sub-Committee and has participated in the Green California Schools Summit, the nation’s largest green schools event, speaking on a panel discussion regarding successful green school projects built below average regional construction costs using the USGBC’s LEED Rating System.