The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) recently released its 2017 list of Top 10 States for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) with Virginia landing the eighth spot for the seventh consecutive year. Of the 18 million-plus gross square feet in LEED certified building space that garnered the Commonwealth this prestigious distinction, 1.4 million square feet – or nearly 8 percent – belong to Virginia Beach City Public Schools (VBCPS).
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Tony Arnold, executive director of facilities services for the school division. “They’re healthier buildings that are better places to teach and learn and in the long-term they are better buildings to operate.”
LEED is the most widely used green building rating system in the world, according to the USBGC. In order to achieve certification, a building must be built according to LEED standards, which rate a building’s construction across several categories, including energy use, water efficiency, air quality, materials and innovation in sustainable design.
Not only does VBCPS have provisions in School Board policy that call for all new construction and major modernization or renovation projects to be built according to LEED standards, the school division was one of the pioneers in LEED construction.
In 2005, with the opening of Hermitage Elementary School, VBCPS was the first school division in Virginia to open a LEED certified school.
Fast forward 12 years and VBCPS now has built or replaced seven LEED certified schools as well as the school division’s transportation building. Old Donation School is currently in the certification process and the John B. Dey Elementary School modernization would bring the division’s LEED buildings to 10.
“It’s not just about building a building, but about changing culture,” Arnold said, adding that students, teachers and staff in the buildings also embrace sustainability. These stakeholders are actively involved in sustainability efforts during construction of their school.
For example, during Kellam High School’s construction, students were involved in a design competition of the courtyard.
“What’s really designed out there is the collage of ideas that all came from students,” Arnold recalls.
Kellam’s courtyard featured nine rainwater collection cisterns used to irrigate playing fields as well as sitting areas and trees.
The school, which is designed to withstand a Category 2 hurricane, also offers flexible learning spaces, green roofs and other sustainability features.
Similarly, Old Donation School is filled with numerous sustainability features, a few of which are noise-absorption boards throughout the school, energy-saving equipment that is housed in a partially-glassed room so that students can see it, and even a rooftop garden.
In addition to LEED certification, the school division has also won numerous construction awards, earned a Certified Green School Division designation, and was a 2017 ENERGY STAR Partner of the Year.
Cumulatively, all of these efforts have made a measurable difference for the environment.