It is an amazing time to live in Ohio and an even more amazing time to work in the K-12 public facility sector. I am a public servant who administers a sustainability program that saves taxpayer dollars and provides extraordinary benefits to our biggest asset, our children. I serve as the Sustainability Administrator for the Ohio Facilities Construction Commission (OFCC). We oversee the design and construction of public K-12 schools, state agencies and higher education facilities.
When I took this position in 2009, Ohio had one LEED certified school and 150 others registered all over our great state. Since then, we have gone on an amazing journey of learning and growth as the Ohio construction industry has designed and built LEED schools. Throughout this journey, there have been growing pains as we’ve mastered the LEED certification process. I am happy to say that we have learned a valuable lesson along the way, the integrated process of working through challenges as a team and finding ways to improve together is as valuable as the end product.
Benefits of green schools
The benefits of green schools go far beyond operational cost savings as these are the facilities where our children spend a majority of their young lives. By providing safe, healthy and comfortable environments, we encourage their learning and show them that we believe they matter. I have had the extreme pleasure of watching new schools open to replace old, out of date and sometimes unsafe facilities. The look on the faces of the children as they walk into their classrooms gives you a desire to go back and do the next one even better. That’s why I support the use of the LEED rating system for design and construction of our schools. It forces project teams to think about their decisions during a time when cost and time constraints may lead to less than favorable decisions.
I am happy to say that elements of environmental education have increased dramatically over the past several years in the physical facilities and curriculum. Schools are choosing to utilize the School as a Teaching Tool credit and embed educational opportunities into the building, systems, and grounds, costing them no more and reaping significant long-term rewards. I have seen everything from adding windows to the mechanical rooms to adding rooftop gardens accessible by the children. It is fascinating to help the school districts understand sustainable and environmentally friendly design opportunities.
The OFCC only has data on how the schools were designed and not how they are being operated. Some argue that this isn’t an accurate measurement of how they will operate or perform. I agree with that statement, green buildings are only as efficient as the people operating them. However, if LEED wasn’t required, we would not have schools that are designed to be 33% more energy efficient than ASHRAE standards. Our schools are designed to be 37% more water efficient than a building baseline for their size and usage. Our 200 LEED projects have diverted over 368,000 tons and 141,923 cubic yards of construction waste from our landfills. The Regional Materials credit has brought over $890,000,000 to Ohio businesses and our immediate neighbor states. There are so many ways to look at these LEED projects and see how they help the environment, economy and human health.
I can’t say enough how USGBC, the Center for Green Schools and the Green Building Certification Institute have supported and assisted Ohio in reaching this wonderful milestone. I have met many exceptional people during my time as Director of the Green School Program and Sustainability Administrator for Ohio. I have no doubt that we will reach the goal of all kids in a green school within this generation, because where we learn matters!