Green schools save money over the life span of the building, can be built at or below regional construction costs for traditional buildings and can be operated within the same budget, Wiedower said. They are also an investment in students.
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Emory University was one of the earliest campuses to embrace green building, said Ciannat Howett, director of Sustainability Initiatives. The institution set the ambitious goal of having its building renovations held to minimum LEED Silver standard by 2025.
About 300 students participated in designing the new LEED Platinum student center, offering input on policy and process. The athletic field nearby hosts 400-foot-deep geothermal wells that help heat and cool the facility. About 80% of habitable spaces get lighting from daylight beaming through glass walls that feature solar tracking shades to block heat.
Stations in the dining hall offer vegetarian and vegan options, and about 43% of food comes from local sources. Service is trayless, there is no Styrofoam on campus and meals are served with real silverware.
“They see (green building) as a blueprint for creating high-quality learning environments, but it’s also part of preparing students for 21st-century careers, and a commitment to sustainability is something students expect to see,” said Wiedower.
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SAE has consistently invested in greening its building, which once housed a charter school on the 7 acres of land. Starowicz installed LED lights throughout the two-story building and moved the AC units to Wi-Fi so he could adjust the thermostat from his phone during nights and weekends. Add to that the existing rooftop array of solar panels, and the school cut its monthly utility bill by 30%, he said.
Scott Starowicz, SAE’s chief financial officer, walks past the school’s solar panel array. The pre-K-8 school in Mableton is believed to be the first elementary school in the state with plans to be powered 100% by solar energy. Sustainability efforts are integrated into the school’s curriculum. BOB ANDRES / ROBERT.ANDRES@AJC.COM
With a $60,000 grant from the Kendeda Fund through Southface Institute, which the school must match through its annual fund drive, donations and corporate sponsorship, they hope to install additional panels by the end of the year to become 100% solar, Starowicz said. The move will free up more than $36,000 each year, which Starowicz said will allow them to reinvest in the school — hiring more teachers, improving curriculum and continuing to engage even their youngest students in environmental stewardship.
In many ways, the Southeast is the hardest region in which to design a green building because it needs to be cooled in summer, heated in winter and prepared for moisture year-round, said Dennis Creech, fund adviser for sustainability at the Kendeda Fund. "The good news is we know how to do it," Creech said. While the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design is surely innovative, it isn't new. "We didn't invent anything new, but what we did do is use an integrated design approach, which is unfortunately still somewhat rare," Creech said.
The building at Georgia Tech is home to classrooms, laboratories, offices, an auditorium and a roof garden with an apiary, and it serves as a living laboratory for regenerative design, a growing field in which building design improves the surrounding environment.
The key to making integrated design cost-effective is creating elements that have multiple uses, Creech said. Not only do the 900 solar panels on the roof generate more electricity than the building uses, but they also support a rainwater collection system, provide shade for the building and serve as an outdoor porch where students can gather, he said.
This shows the interior of the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design at Georgia Tech, which opened Oct. 24. The interior features reclaimed, sustainable wood, much of which is locally sourced. ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
Built on the site of a former parking lot, the building is also designed to generate more water than it uses each year. Rainwater is stored and treated on-site to be used as water for drinking and in sinks and showers in the building.
While many sustainable elements are visible, such as the reclaimed wood from fallen trees used throughout the building or sensor-controlled LED lighting, some are less obvious. Living Building certification prohibits the use of certain chemicals, so builders must source materials that meet those standards or lobby manufacturers to make alternatives to products that contain chemicals such as phthalates, BPA and PVC, which negatively impact human and environmental health.
The natural plumbing system at the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design features huge containers that collect solid and human waste separately. Solid human waste from the composting toilets is decomposed by containers (shown here) holding wood shavings. These shavings will eventually be taken from the building and will be used as fertilizer for farmers or whoever is interested in the natural fertilizer. ALYSSA POINTER / ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
The building also has composting toilets that use biodegradable soap and a small amount of water to draw waste into giant compost bins where pine shavings deodorize and break down solid waste.
With more than 7,000 visitors expected by the end of the year, the hope is that the building serves as inspiration for what is possible in the Southeast. “Once you learn how to build a Living Building, you can’t unlearn it,” said Shan Arora, director of the Kendeda Building. “We want everyone who comes in the building to begin thinking differently about building in general.”
BY THE NUMBERS
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is among the most recognized green building rating systems in the world. Projects pursuing LEED certification earn points across a range of categories such as Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Indoor Environmental Quality and more. The number of points achieved dictates the level of certification granted as Certified, Silver, Gold or Platinum. Here is how Georgia compares to the nation and the world.
More than 2,320 LEED-certified K-12 schools globally
More than 1,880 LEED-certified K-12 schools in the U.S.
42 LEED-certified K-12 schools in Georgia
More than 4,900 LEED-certified higher education facilities globally
More than 4,770 LEED-certified higher education facilities in the U.S.
82 LEED-certified higher education facilities in Georgia
SOURCE: USGBC Center for Green Schools