County expanding Green Schools program

Jan. 26, 2006, midnight | By Adam Yalowitz | 15 years, 8 months ago

MCPS looks to save money, Blair to test new, energy-efficient lights

MCPS has expanded its environmentally friendly Green Schools Focus program over the past three years in hopes of saving money, making school buildings safer and educating students about energy use.

Rising fuel costs make the need to save energy critical, as MCPS expects to spend record amounts on energy in coming years, said Ron Balon, MCPS Energy Manager. As part of the Green Schools program's growth, energy-efficient lights are scheduled to be installed by building services workers on Blair's third floor by the end of January.

The Green Schools program, which promotes saving energy in county schools, has been at Blair for two years, said science teacher Jennifer Tanner, who manages Blair's Green Schools initiatives. Tanner hopes to use Blair's Green Schools program to help create an effective recycling program and to test new lights that use less energy.

The program is still in an early phase, said Tanner, who would like to see it expand. "I'd like to see it become more organized as a club," she said. "There are multiple benefits. There are obvious economic benefits and monetary rewards for Blair." Of the MCPS Green Schools, Blair is currently ranked eighth in total electricity savings for the 2005 fall semester.

Blair's Students for Global Responsibility (SGR) has expressed interest in working with Tanner to organize the Green Schools program. "SGR would love being a part of the movement to make our school more green," said senior Emily May, one of SGR's student leaders.

MCPS's Green Schools program began three years ago as an outgrowth of the county's School Eco Response Team (SERT) in order to better engage students in learning about the environment and energy use. "We felt that SERT did not take advantage of its full potential with high school students," said Karen Anderson, director of MCPS's SERT and Green Schools programs. New programs are geared to increase student involvement, she said.

The Green Schools program has been extremely successful, said Anderson, who points to several examples of student research influencing MCPS policy. "For example, in the Green Schools program, students at Poolesville analyzed the cost of leaving computer monitors on when no one was using them. It's not much when it's just one computer, but when you add it all up, it's a lot," she said.

Schools can save large portions of their energy budgets if students and staff make a group effort to practice simple energy saving strategies, according to Anderson. "Collectively, it's really easy to save 10 percent of a school's energy budget," she said.

MCPS saved $1 million through SERT and the Green Schools programs in the 2004-2005 school year, according to Balon. "In 2005 and 2006 we're aiming to save $1.25 million through the SERT and Green Schools programs," he said. Balon believes that rising fuel costs make it imperative to use energy efficiently. "We anticipated rising fuel costs, so we've been enlarging the whole Green Schools Focus program."

The Poolesville students' survey of energy use caused the MCPS Office of Strategic Technologies and Accountability to alter its policy regarding computer use. Instead of turning all MCPS computers on at the beginning of the day, individual users now turn computers on when they are ready to use them.

MCPS now has three facilitators who visit all participating Green Schools in the county every few months to help schools develop energy conservation programs. "If a school exceeds 10 percent savings, they get a $500 reward," said Balon. "Even if they don't, but are doing everything they should, they get $300." The reward money, which does not have to be spent on environmental programs, is used as an incentive for involvement in the Green Schools program.

Anderson hopes the MCPS Green Schools program continues to expand. "We have a means of testing new ideas and getting feedback," she said. "We now have a system where students and staff can help test energy-efficient products, and they can help decide what [to use]." Some ways in which the county can save energy costs include waterless urinals.

As part of the program, students also analyze the cost of implementing new technology compared to future savings to determine whether environmentally friendly products are financially rewarding for MCPS, said Anderson.

Currently, students at Churchill are testing new lamps that use less energy than the lamps MCPS currently uses. "They're seeing if the lamps work and if the light level measurements meet all state standards," said Anderson. High light levels at some schools were even causing student headaches, according to Anderson, who wants environmental programs to expand so that students can complete similar tests at all county schools.

Expanding the program

The Green Schools program is present at over 30 county schools. Each year, 10 new schools are allowed to apply and become Green Schools, said Anderson. To apply, a team of students, staff and building services workers must develop a plan to implement energy initiatives at their school.

Several members of the Board of Education have expressed interest in continuing to enlarge MCPS's Green Schools program, while others have reservations about potential costs, said Board of Education member Sharon Cox.

Board member Valerie Ervin introduced a resolution at a Dec. 13, 2005, Board meeting aimed at increasing awareness of the Green Schools program and beginning efforts to expand MCPS's environmental programs. The resolution passed after several amendments, which weakened it extensively, claimed Ervin. MCPS's goal was finding moderation, said Cox. "I think that the system is interested in pursuing improvements," she said. "However, one of the restrictions is additional cost - the key is finding a balance."

Ervin said current Board concerns about extra costs were shortsighted and that MCPS must expand its Green Schools program. "The fact is, we're not doing enough," she said. "On the front end it may cost more to initiate the program's expansion, but on the long end it will save us money."

Adam Yalowitz. Adam Yalowitz is just silly. You may find him asking you how much sleep you got last night and then smirking when you say "five hours," because he's always slept less, no matter what. When he does sleep, he dreams of Barack Obama, Tastee Diner … More »

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