New initiative encourages greener schools nationwide

By Rachel Small

The growing movement toward all things green has taken another step forward in its battle for environmentally friendly school buildings.

The U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., is strengthening national efforts to increase the number of green schools with its new “Fifty for Fifty” initiative.

The initiative encourages state legislators to create caucuses working toward the construction of green elementary, middle and high schools.

“I think we have a wonderful opportunity to give healthier learning environments to the children in our state,” said Illinois Rep. Karen May, D-58th, one of the legislators introducing the initiative.

While the exact measures the caucuses will be taking to encourage green schools are still unclear, May said she would like to start a “revolving loan fund” to lend school districts the extra money it costs to build a green school. The districts would repay the loan after making up the difference in decreased operating costs.

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“I’m excited because I think a lot of school districts would like to do the right thing,” May said.

The council considers a school to be green after it has been certified by LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a rating system that judges a building’s design, construction and operation.

The council’s Web site states that green schools improve the health of both students and staff, are more cost efficient and create a more effective academic environment. Criteria for certification include the use of renewable building materials, efficient energy use and maximization of natural light.

Presby Hall is currently the only LEED-certified green residence building at the University. Allison Kasbee, freshman in Education and Presby resident, said she enjoys the large windows in her suite.

“It’s much more pleasant because of the natural sunlight,” said Kasbee. “It lights up the whole room.”

An Illinois caucus promoting greener schools would encourage school districts to construct buildings that, like Presby, are in accordance with LEED standards.

While LEED is mainly associated with new building projects, it does have a program called LEED for Existing Buildings, which certifies older buildings based on efficient operation rather than construction.

Neither District 116 in Urbana nor Unit 4 in Champaign have any buildings registered with LEED.

“If, in the future, we build a new building, our board has committed to building a green building,” said Ota Dossett, director of facilities for District 116.

Though District 116 has not applied for certification from the LEED for Existing Buildings program, Dossett said that it has committed to being more environmentally friendly and cost efficient. Over the summer, the district swapped out its old lighting for new, cheaper and more ecologically responsible lighting, among other measures.

Dossett estimates that the recent changes in lighting have saved the district about 40 percent of what it normally would have spent.

“Just in general, we’re committed to greening our buildings,” said Dossett.