Environmental benefits of a high performance, carbon neutral K-12 campus in Oberlin

Posted by Gabriel Moore
Gabriel Moore
My name is Gabriel Moore and I'm a first-year from South Carolina, hoping to bec
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on July 5, 2013 in Education

The mind of a growing child is an impressionable thing. As a line taken from the musical Into the Woods states, “Careful the things you say, children will listen. Careful the things you do, children will see and learn.” And in fact, majority of the things children hear and see come from the place they spend majority of their time: school. So, in light of developing a more sustainable community, what can we do in order to show the youth the importance of practices that aid the environment rather than being detrimental to it? And how can we then expand that to the Oberlin community in order to positively move towards the goal of carbon neutrality? On the table is a plan that will address both of these issues: the construction of a consolidated, high performance, carbon neutral K-12 campus.



Now, first, to answer the question on most people’s mind when there is a call of drastic change: why? Do we really need to stop using the current buildings which appear to be doing their job all for the sake of building a more environmentally friendly, singular building? And, easily, the answer is yes for quite a few reasons. The first of the reasons is simply the amount of space the current facilities take up. Currently, the space required by the State of Ohio in order to optimally function is 150 ft2 per student. In comparison, the Oberlin City School District exceeds this by over 66% at 250 ft2. The second would be the amount of money that will be saved in the long run, almost $1.25 million in savings on completion of the new building. And finally, the environmental impact on Oberlin would be significant.

The figures do not lie: the buildings as they stand are inefficient, and thus negatively contribute to the community’s push to become carbon neutral by the year 2050[1]. On average, Langston Middle School and Oberlin High School use 44500 kilowatts of energy in one month each. This equals 30 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions; the equivalent of the energy usage from 4.5 homes in one year. In a year’s time, each school puts out the equivalent of 54 homes worth of CO2 emissions. The story is similar when it comes to natural gas usage, which adds about 1 home to the total for each building. In other words, the four buildings (Prospect, Eastwood, Langston, and Oberlin HS) emit around 220 homes worth of CO2 emissions in one year’s time[2]. That's the equivalent of over 10% of the emissions from all homes in Oberlin! And that’s just the story with energy consumption. As with water, each school pumps out on average an Olympic-sized swimming pool worth of water a month[4], most of which is not cycled back through in a reusable way and no way to reduce the amount through obtaining rainwater.

How does a new school compare? The proposed 155,000 square foot school will include a high performance building envelope and HVAC to reduce the loss of heating and air conditioning and thus improve overall efficiency. Electrical power will be greatly reduced by obtaining power from the photovoltaic array and use of DC power to LED lights. The new school design will have a great focus on water retention by implementing an external system to store and reuse water. This will also allow for grey water return, or wastewater from dishwashing, hand washing, or other related tasks to be used for landscape irrigation. Another proposed use of the water is within the context of a living machine, or ecological wastewater treatment, to produce reuse-quality water and irrigation for plants.

The implementation of a “one school for all” building has been shown to be successful in a town with similar ideologies and statistics to Oberlin: Greensburg, Kansas[3]. After their town was virtually destroyed by a tornado in 2007, Greensburg took the initiative to find ways to not only guarantee the future of the town but also to do it in a more vibrant and sustainable way. One of the ways in which they planned to meet this goal was to design a school that meets the LEED for Schools Platinum standard. This includes 100% of the energy purchased from renewable sources, rainwater harvesting, and construction with recyclable materials. From all of the changes made, the school district saw a 71% decrease in overall energy usage as compared to all of the previous school buildings put together.

The need for improvement is obvious. But ultimately, the greatest impact that these changes will have is on the children who move through the Oberlin school system. A high performance building can enrich the educational experience of our students by instilling value of sustainability and dedication to a greater community. To this end, the newly established K-12 building would not only be a milestone for students in Oberlin, but to students throughout the nation by continuing to establish Oberlin as a standard for environmental prosperity.

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My name is Gabriel Moore and I'm a first-year from South Carolina, hoping to become a double major in Biology and Musical Studies (Trombone performance). I have loved the Oberlin campus and people ever since being a Prospie and it's great to be able to be here in this nice, small town. I'm very excited to be able to work with the Oberlin Project as a Bonner Scholar. I believe this is an excellent organization and love being able to help with the changes and progress that we're planning to make. On the side, I am pretty involved with the Oberlin Christian Fellowship, enjoy jamming out on various instruments, going on walks and runs, and just enjoying the company of others.


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