School Districts Building Green and Healthy Schools: Selected Initiatives (2005)

ELI Research Brief

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 (IAQ), resource efficiency, daylighting, sustainable materials, and environmentally responsive site planning. 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 applied green building practices to individual construction or renovation projects, and some have applied these practices 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 the initiatives, as well as some of the important sources of support for their development. 

This information was gathered in 2005 from published sources and from interviews with school officials and others. The summaries build on a more in-depth analysis of school district and state-level green building initiatives provided in ELI’s 2003 report, Building Healthy, High Performance Schools: A Review of Selected State and Local InitiativesAlthough the school district initiatives highlighted below have likely changed since the information was collected, they illustrate several important considerations for 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 crucial 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. Some districts have hired sustainability consultants or project management firms to develop and implement a framework for integrating health and environmental goals into capital projects, while others 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 a high-performance school building initiative is 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 IAQ 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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