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New school may be state's 'greenest'

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By Nathan L. McBroom

When the doors of Shelby County's new secondary school open in the fall of 2010, there is a good possibility that it will be the most environmentally friendly school in the state.

Based on data released to the district last week, the new school is expected to conserve energy 88 percent better than Kentucky's average school.

With energy costs on the rise, "going green" likely will help the district save some serious green on future energy bills - perhaps thousands of dollars each year.

Superintendent James Neihof said along with saving taxpayers money, he hopes the "green designs" also will encourage local students to be more environmentally conscientious.

At a school board meeting last week, Mike Smith, the project's architect, told board members that "green designs" have been incorporated into every aspect of the new school.

"From the very beginning we wanted to make this school as green and healthy as possible," he said.

From the materials used to frame the building down to the use of solar energy that will heat the water in the bathrooms, Smith said the environment has been a focus throughout for the building.

Smith told the board that the school's design would qualify it to be listed as one of Kentucky's "Green and Healthy Schools."

The program, which is an initiative of the Kentucky Environmental Education Council, recognizes and awards schools that are safe and environmentally healthy.

Schools can become "green and healthy school" by implementing environmentally friendly practices into planning and construction or by making renovations that are better for the environment.

The council provides a checklist of environmentally beneficial practices in new school construction.

Smith said Shelby County's building is positioned to allow the most amount of natural sunlight come into the building. He also that the land around the building is being excavated in order to control the amount of water runoff caused by the school. This will protect the watershed around the school.

And to help remove the toxins from the runoff from the school's parking lot, botanical biomass that absorbs the toxins will be planted in the soil around the school.

Inside the building, the walls and ceiling will by "super-insulated" in order the building keep the buildings temperature regulated.

The school will also have solar shields that reflect light into classrooms to cut down on electricity use, and heat pumps will be powered by solar energy to heat the water.

The new building is projected to only use 1.1 watts of energy per square foot. That's about 88 percent better than the average high school in the state.

Jane Eller, executive director for the KEEC, said research shows that kids who attend environmentally friendly schools have better attendance and perform better on tests.

"You save energy and - that's wonderful - but the students learn better in these schools," she said.

Horace Brown, a local conservationist and chairman of the KEEC, said building healthy schools has countless benefits.

"Year after year we are going to teaching children to be better conservators of the environment," Brown said. "The students and the teachers are healthier are going to be more successful in the classroom."

Neihof agreed.

He said that there is "no telling what kind of long-term environmental benefit these schools will bring."

And if the kids get on board, it's likely that they will influence their entire families, he said.

"If we get kids involved in living a environmentally responsible lifestyle, then we're much more likely to influence their parents as well," he said.