Green School Retrofits

Sometimes the Greenest School is the One You Already Have

Just because you aren’t building green schools doesn’t mean you can’t make an existing school facility green.

Green schools don’t have to be new schools. By improving the operational efficiency and environmental performance of existing facilities, you can make the most of your school buildings and ensure that every student, teacher and staff member in your district can enjoy the health and performance benefits of a green school.
There is a lot of work to be done to deliver the greenest, healthiest, most cost-effective school buildings possible, but the payoff will be enormous. Greening your school buildings will significantly drive down operating costs while improving student and faculty comfort and productivity.
Unlike new construction, the greening of existing facilities is a journey, where success occurs through a series of incremental improvements to building performance, operational policies and maintenance practices. Your district has probably already set off down this path. If you have implemented a recycling program, introduced energy-efficiency practices or identified water-saving strategies, you are well on your way.
The LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (LEED-EB: O&M) rating system provides a set of performance guidelines that can function as a roadmap for ongoing improvements to your building stock and operations and maintenance practices.
The rating system identifies and rewards current best practices and provides an outline for buildings to use less energy, water and natural resources; improve the indoor environment; and uncover operating inefficiencies.
The rating system addresses a building’s physical systems (equipment, design, land use, etc.) and the way the building is occupied and operated (waste management, temperature monitoring, cleaning, etc.). Although LEED certification is awarded to individual buildings, the majority of credits in the LEED-EB: O&M rating system involve sustainable programs, policies and plans that are best addressed at the district level.
When aligned with your capital improvements plan, building system upgrades will not incur new costs, and will instead take place during scheduled retrofits or renovations that have already been budgeted and approved.
When undertaking facility improvement projects, make sure that they meet the requirements set forth in the LEED-EB: O&M rating system.
Start Small
Consider identifying one or several school facilities to take part in a green existing schools pilot program and register the facilities for LEED certification. The lessons learned from the pilot will help to streamline the certification process for future schools and facilities.
One of the most important factors to consider when identifying the best candidates for a pilot program will be the building’s Energy Star rating. A building must achieve an Energy Star rating of at least 69 to be eligible for LEED-EB: O&M certification.
Determine the current energy performance rating of the schools in your district using EPA’s Portfolio Manager. Portfolio Manager is an interactive, online tool that allows you to track and assess energy and water consumption, performance and cost information for individual buildings and building portfolios. Based on monthly utility data entered into the online tool, Portfolio Manager will rate the current level of energy performance of your school buildings.
Even in a limited pilot scenario, navigating the greening process may seem overwhelming at first, but the U.S. Green Building Council’s new Toolkit for Green Existing Schools provides comprehensive guidance for schools and school districts that wish to green their existing facilities, realize measurable results and achieve LEED certification.

The toolkit, which includes a project management guide and a workbook with policy and planning templates will help you chart your course toward becoming a truly green district. Additional toolkit resources with online training modules will be available in 2010.

Rachel Gutter is director of the Education Sector of the U.S. Green Building Council.
A green schools toolkit and other green schools resources can be found here.