School Districts Building Green and Healthy Schools

Summaries of Selected Initiatives (2005)

Green building is an approach to design and construction that features early and integrated consideration of a wide range of environmental and health strategies, including superior indoor air quality, resource efficiency, daylighting, sustainable materials, environmentally responsive site planning, life cycle cost analysis, and building commissioning. Green building supports the mission of school districts by promoting the wellbeing and productivity of students and staff, and by consuming fewer scarce education resources for utility and related operating costs. 

Many school districts have used this approach for individual construction or renovation projects. Some have sought more far-ranging changes throughout their building programs.

Below are summaries of nine school districts that developed formal green building initiatives to guide their school construction programs. The summaries describe the key programmatic elements of these initiatives, as well as some of the important sources of support for their development. The information was gathered in 2005 from published sources, as well as from interviews with school officials and others. The information builds on a more in-depth analysis of school district and state-level green building initiatives described in ELI’s 2003 report, Building Healthy, High Performance Schools: A Review of Selected State and Local Initiatives.

Although the school district initiatives highlighted here have likely changed since this brief was published in 2005, they illustrate key elements that remain important to developing a high performance school building initiative.

              Strong Local Support. School districts have received support for green building programs from within and outside the district. A “champion” within the school district, such as a senior manager in the facilities department, often plays a critical role in advancing the initiative. Support may also come from individuals and groups outside the district, as well as from state or local government agencies that have established other green programs and are able to share resources or expertise.

              Adequate Technical Resources. In addition to establishing a goal of designing and building green and healthy school facilities, school districts must have the technical resources for achieving that goal. Districts have hired sustainability consultants or project management firms to develop and implement the framework for integrating health and environmental goals into capital projects. In some cases, districts have hired new staff (or dedicated an existing staff position) to oversee the green building program. School districts also have created informal or formal partnerships or working groups to leverage technical resources outside of the district – e.g., with local utility companies, state and local government agencies, private building professionals, and community-based groups.

              Clear Framework for Decision-Making. A core element of any green and healthy school building initiative is the creation of a mechanism for ensuring that a wide range of health and environmental goals are considered in individual projects. A common approach has been to use a third-party green building rating system or checklist, such as the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) criteria. School districts can adapt third-party criteria to address their own indoor air quality priorities. Some districts have institutionalized the use of high performance design criteria by incorporating specific design requirements and recommendations into the district’s formal standards or specifications applicable to all capital projects.

              Effective Implementation. School districts have used a variety of approaches to ensuring effective implementation of a green building initiative.  Examples include submission of a design checklist at various stages of a project, training for district project managers and for architect/engineer teams, formal opportunities for community involvement, project commissioning criteria, and periodic reviews of the green building program.


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