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Greening our Schools in Montana

written By Dawn Smith and Wendy Weaver

US Green Building Council Montana Chapter

“In 2009, Bozeman was the first Montana city to join the Mayors Alliance for Green Schools…”

The way education and its physical environment are viewed is changing. An integrative approach is being applied to school construction and renovation looking at all aspects of the learning process, a concept developed within the Center for Green Schools. A Green School can be defined as a school building that creates a healthy environment conducive to learning while saving energy, resources and money; contains clean air and sunlight; is free of toxic materials and harmful chemicals; is energy efficient, reduces waste, conserves resources and preserves surrounding habitats. The benefits of green schools can be seen in financial savings, improved health of staff and students, increased learning and test scores and a higher success rate and earning potential from student graduates.

The Center for Green Schools goals include the 50 for 50 Green Schools Caucus Initiative, the formation of green school caucuses in all 50 state legislatures and the Mayor’s Alliance for Green Schools. In 2009, Bozeman was the first Montana city to join the Mayors Alliance for Green Schools, a proclamation signed by then Mayor Kaaren Jacobsen. To date more than 60 Mayors nationwide have signed this proclamation.

Currently 13 states have adopted green school policies for new construction based on LEED: Arizona, Connecticut, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Kentucky, Maryland, New Jersey, Ohio, Rhode Island, Washington and Washington, D.C. Green and Sustainable Schools are also supported and advocated for by organizations such as the American Federation of Teachers. The State of Montana or its individual school districts do not address the idea or need for green/sustainable design or operation in its school buildings. In recent years there have been efforts by school districts to reduce energy use through high efficient equipment and lighting products. While these efforts are commendable, there are many areas still being overlooked.

Billings Public School District, the largest in Montana with 33 buildings, 31 schools and 15,500 students, has 28 Energy Star Rated schools and has a dedicated staff position that oversees energy conservation efforts throughout the district. From July 2008 to January 2010, the district saved $654,636 through energy conservation measures. In 2010, the district had not increased their utility budget for two years and will not increase it for 2011; utility rate increases have been absorbed through savings.

The Townsend School District uses innovative solutions to reduce tax payer costs through renewable energy systems and efficiency upgrades including a biomass boiler that burns wood pellets as part of the Fuels for Schools Program and 2.4 kilowatt wind turbine installed as a part of the Wind for Schools Program. In 2009 Cottonwood Elementary completed a renovation through the Quick Start Energy Program, which followed the LEED for Schools Guidelines for energy efficiency and indoor environment.

The cities of Bozeman and Missoula are developing Climate Action Plans addressing the need for reduction in CO2 emissions (CO2e). In the Bozeman area, commercial buildings account for 38% of total CO2e. The Bozeman School District is the 3rd largest employer, making it one of the larger contributors to CO2e. By adopting and implementing green school standards school districts can positively affect both their immediate population and the community at-large. The City of Bozeman, partnering with Gallatin County, is working to bring recycling programs to all Bozeman Elementary Schools. Initial efforts in the 2010-2011 school year resulted in a diversion of over 99MT of CO2e.

As Montana’s population and educational needs grow, it is time for school districts, administrators, legislators and parents to step into the 21st century with both feet and create schools that are cost-effective, healthy and enriching environments in which children can learn and grow.

Wendy Weaver is a LEED AP and owner of Green Stone Consulting. Dawn Smith recently served on the Bozeman Climate Task Force. Both have school age children and live in Bozeman and are working to further the mission of Green Schools statewide.