Ohio leads the nation in energy-efficient LEED schools, saving millions of dollars on energy costs statewide. And cash-strapped districts are hoping voters appreciate those financial benefits as they make their cases for levy approvals.
The state’s top rank is in large part because of the Ohio School Facilities Commission’s (OSFC) adoption of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Schools rating program. The program, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, applies to new construction or major renovations for schools from kindergarten through twelfth grade.
“Ohio is leading the nation in our green school efforts. We’re even beating California,” says Lisa Laney, green schools program director for OSFC. As of April 2013, Ohio had 345 schools either certified or registered for certification, compared to just 201 in California, according to commission and USGBC data.
Cloverleaf Local Schools in Medina County, Ohio, knows all about needing to save money. Cloverleaf is one of six Ohio school districts currently in an official state of Fiscal Emergency, meaning that its five-year forecast shows a budget deficit. The 119-square-mile school district has already made $4 million in budget cuts.
Among other cost-cutting measures, Cloverleaf closed and combined three schools into a new 1,200-student elementary school. Some savings come from consolidating operations, like cafeterias. The school’s LEED design provides more savings for lighting, heating, and other energy uses. For example, sensors measure brightness in classrooms, and the system adjusts light fixtures’ output to lower electric bills. That also maximizes natural light, and research from USGBC says daylight improves children’s health and learning.
Such features are another advantage for Ohio’s LEED schools, says Laney. “The energy efficiencies that we’re putting into these buildings now will benefit not only the taxpayers of Ohio—they benefit the children across Ohio. As a side benefit, the buildings are healthier places to live and learn every day.”
Building a new school isn’t the only way that energy efficiency lets Ohio schools do more with less. OSFC’s Energy Conservation Program—also called the House Bill 264 program—lets districts borrow funds for energy efficiency projects without prior voter approval. Districts pay back the loans with the projects’ savings over a 15-year period.
Lighting typically accounts for 26 percent of a school’s electric bill, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Program. Improvements to exterior and interior lighting like changing the T12 fixtures with T5 Retrofit Kits might cost between $250,000 and $500,000. Yet those changes can produce combined savings of $25,000 to $50,000 per year, reports OSFC. The improvements pay for themselves in five to ten years, and then the savings continue.
Of course, every dollar saved on energy is a dollar that districts can use for teachers, classroom materials, or other purposes. “That money is sorely needed and could go into other areas,” says Delane.
Students, teachers, and staff enjoy a better environment at energy efficient schools too. Kubilus says the light quality at Cloverleaf’s buildings is much clearer after the energy efficiency upgrades. The new boilers provide more comfort while taking up significantly less space.
“The fact that we’re getting better output, better quality, at a lower price, it’s a win-win situation.”