K-12 Schools Spotlight: How to Save Money with Green Modernizations

The greenest thing a school district can do is to make its existing schools more sustainable. Green modernizations are even more sustainable than constructing new green schools. “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is the mantra of a well-known ad campaign we all remember; it applies to the green modernization and expansion of existing schools, as well.

A school district reduces its development footprint, because it is modernizing existing buildings or expanding on an already developed property, rather than using a greenfield site. The district reduces the amount of natural resources that it consumes by greening an existing school, because it doesn’t have to construct a new building foundation, façade, or, for the most part, interior rooms. Green modernization and expansion projects also reduce the amount of money that a school district spends.

New construction costs much more than modernization and expansion. With a green modernization, the district reuses existing school facilities in new and sustainable ways. Often, it also reuses some of the school’s existing furnishings. A green modernization and/or expansion project generates less waste than new construction, and it can recycle its demolition and construction waste, often into new uses on site.

On top of all of these benefits, green modernization and expansion projects bring all of the benefits of new green school construction to students, teachers, administrators, staff, the school district, the larger community … and they do more.

A green modernization generates greater school pride in students, faculty, and staff. It also reinvigorates the community, often leading to the rehabilitation of properties in surrounding residential neighborhoods.

Like new construction, green modernization and expansion projects also generate significant savings in long-term operating costs, strengthen faculty and staff attraction and retention rates, and improve student learning and test scores.

These projects are a tremendous opportunity for school districts to meet the growing number of municipal and state regulations about green buildings, improve their overall sustainability, reduce their use of environmental resources, improve their relationship with the larger community, and better serve their students, faculty, administrators, and staff—all at a lower cost than new construction projects would entail.

The Green Modernization Process

As with new construction, a green modernization and expansion project is a comprehensive strategy that requires a collaborative planning, design, and construction process in which all project team members work together from the start of the job.

The first step in the green modernization process is to assemble a green project team, from architect and landscape architect to engineers, contractors, and outside consultants, as well as school district and school administrators and staff.

1. Site design committee

Next, establish a site design committee that will work with the project team to define what requires improvement on the existing school campus, particularly those features that cause compromises in—or even impair—the educational program to create a successful school project. Many schools that are more than 25 years old, for example, have inflexible self-contained classrooms that don’t support new teaching and learning modalities or clustering.

In addition, these schools usually don’t have enough space to support staff collaboration, counseling, psychologist, speech, resource specialist programs, or parent-teacher work. The site design committee and project team should discuss furniture and technology integration in the classroom design to create the appropriate level of adaptability.

2. School survey

The project team then surveys and photographs the entire school. LPA, for example, uses our patented “Accu-Survey” process that verifies existing conditions, examines every building system, and identifies what can be improved.

The school survey will include interviews with the school’s and the district’s maintenance staff to identify key long-term issues, from the need for painting or a new roof to HVAC, plumbing, and lighting upgrades. The project team and the maintenance staff also assemble existing documents showing the original construction details and any changes or upgrades that have been made since the school was first built.

In our next K-12 school modernization post we’ll cover the next few steps in the Green Modernization Process, including schematic design, budget, and design development.

Wendy Rogers is a Design Principal at California-based LPA Inc. Her specialty is the integration of design and curriculum within educational spaces, for K-12 schools. Her work has been recognized by the American Institute of Architects, the Coalition for Adequate School Housing, the Pacific Coast Builders Conference, the Society of American Registered Architects, the California Parks and Recreation Society, and the Green California Schools Summit, to name a few. She’s a LEED accredited professional, active member of the U.S. Green Building Council Green Schools Committee, and the co-author of “Green School Primer: Lessons in Sustainability.”

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