Monday, February 12, 2007

Schools: Build cheap or build green?

A new Guilford County middle school is getting a lot of publicity because it’s been designed to be more environmentally sensitive than most schools. Here’s what the Raleigh News & Observer wrote about it.

How does it compare to what’s being built by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools? Well for starters, though the article says the new Northern Guilford Middle school was built for only a half a percent more in construction costs, for $26.5 million, CMS’ middle schools are being built more cheaply, especially if you consider cost per student.

I phoned Tony Ansaldo, CMS director of architecture, to get some facts. Ansaldo said Crestdale and Bradley, two of CMS’s newer baseline (that is, typical) middle schools, cost approximately the same in today’s dollars as the Guilford middle school but are designed for 1,200 students instead of 950 at the Guilford school. He says the next CMS middle schools to be built will likely be 130,000 square feet for 1,200 students, down from 145,000 square feet at Crestdale and Bradley. The Guilford school is 140,000 square feet.

Ansaldo applauds Guilford for working to build a greener school. He also talked about what CMS is doing to help make new schools greener. (One irony, he noted, is that older schools from the 1930s to 1950s have much better daylighting than the 1960s and 1970s schools.) Among other things, CMS tries to design window walls to take advantage of daylight, though most CMS schools are not being designed specifically as "daylit" schools, he said. (One exception is the new Mint Hill Middle School, where a UNC Charlotte daylighting expert was a consultant.) People using the school love it, he said, though the higher windows are harder for maintenance crews to clean.

Ansaldo also said CMS had looked at the dimming system for fluorescent lights, mentioned in the article, but at the time it wouldn’t have paid for itself over the school's lifetime. Technology is changing quickly, he noted, so maybe newer systems are more economical.

With those advances it's possible that soon the cost of building a green school will be cheaper than a conventional building, even before lifetime energy costs are considered.

There’s a cohort of people in Charlotte-Mecklenburg who really want CMS to build the cheapest schools possible. They make a lot of noise, and many are not conversant with green building, either the concept or the details.

Another cohort wants CMS to build much greener schools. They don’t make nearly as much noise, at least not in political circles. And they don't seem to recognize the political power the "cheap" cohort exerts.

So the current push for school buildings is for cheap, not green.


Anonymous said...

Par for the course in Charlotte. Tons of money, tons of SUV's and still cheap as cheap can get.

It's a Southern Republican thang !

Ya'll come back and see us now (as long as it don't cost us none) ya here.

Cheap ass Republicans.

Anonymous said...

"here" is a joke if ya'll didn't get it.

Pete said...

I guess if CMS wasn't so gigantic building such gigantic schools, the reality of this topic might be pretty interesting.

For example: at one of the elementary schools in North Meck recently there was a scheduling issue regarding the opening of the new school nearby. The parents/school admin people came up with a solution that would have been unique to CMS.

CMS response: NO. We have 99 elementary schools, if we let YOU do it, we have to let everyone do it.

Green schools? Sure. Please know Mary, as soon as you build a new green school in a area that is mostly white, George Dunlap, Vilma Leake, Molly Griffin, Joe White, et al will want to replace current schools with the newest thing.

Rick said...

So I guess it's those cheap Republicans who run the school system, and those cheap Republicans who run the County Commission, and those cheap Republicans who run the City Council who are against green schools. Not to mention those same cheap Republicans who stacked the school building solutions committee with their own who ignored green schools. That's right isn't it Mary? If it wasn't for those evil, stingy Republicans you'd get everything you want?

Oh wait, that would be the Democrats who did all those things. Sorry, I got your reality confused with the world's actual facts.

Anonymous said...

Rick makes a good point. The debate has been fairly one sided for the past few decades. The liberals are calling all of the shots on the school boards. There has never been a Republican majority on that board.

I suspect that the financial demands and the huge needs have forced CMS to simply build seats as much as is possible. The difficulty in finding basic resources makes the entire topic of "Green" buildings sort of irrelevant.

Green technologies that can be applied to existing buildings would have far more impact. There are over 100 schools in the system already. Having ideas that can affordably be applied to all existing schools would have a much bigger overall energy impact.

For example, as lights need to be replaced, using the low energy bulbs. As solar power panels become cost competitive, add them to roofs. There are dozens of energy saving tips that anyone can use today if it becomes a regular part of maintenance.

Nothing sexy like "green buildings" is required. Just some good old fashioned caulking of windows would be a huge positive change.

Lewis Guignard said...

Relatively speaking it is not expensive to build schools, or any building, green to one extent or another. As Mary points out in her piece, CMS schools built in earlier times had more orientation towards using sunlight for lighting. There are many different methods to use which make buildings green, including lighting, heating, insulation, solar panels for heat and light, recycled materials etc.

Rick points out that Democrats have been in charge of CMS School Board, Charlotte City Council and the Board of County Commissioners for years. So are they the people who want to build cheap. No! Actually it is a mindset. If CMS wanted to build green it would be happening.

As one of the leaders of those who have opposed CMS school bonds in the past, I will remind you the reasons have to do with waste, which should not be confused with cheap, although some people have an inablity to discern the difference between the two.

Waste has occurred and continues for political reasons, which have to with satisfying minority group politicians, not constituents. Addtionally it has to do with continuing to feed the Bovis Management group and their hires, millions of tax dollars.

This requires schools which are old to be torn down even though they were structurally sound and only required good maintenance to last for years, simply because they are in particular neighborhoods, such as George Dunlap's political district.
There have been hundreds of millions of taxdollars wasted on this part of the CMS building program, while the majority of the school board cries, they don't have enough money to build schools in the suburbs. This is meanness camoflouged as waste and political expediency.

Then there is the waste of not fully funding the CMS maintenance program. It hasn't been fully funded in at least 20 years, which contributes to the deterioation of buildings, which then require major renovations. This is cheap - and it is controlled by the school board.

So as one who has and will, most likely, continue to oppose CMS bonds, I support green building of government facilities, but will persist in opposing building policies which reflect only political games and not real needs.

It is not about cheap it is about waste. On this line, rail-lite runs second.

As an aside, The Charlotte Observer editorial staff has supported cheap and waste at CMS. This is evidenced by their continued support of policies, bond issues, staff and politicians whose methods and inclinations have brought us insufficient maintenance programs and wasteful building programs.

Anonymous said...

The push isn't for cheap OR green - it's just to build the damn things!

Anonymous said...

Build upward. Never have I seen so many schools sprawled out over so much land. Plenty of them single story. This is a metro area. Start planning like a city should. Lets build 10 story schools. Less land, smaller footprint, cheaper to go up.
As for the Green aspect. They most definitely should be going greener. Especially if it doesn't cost much more.

Pete said...

The other overlooked aspect of green is the placement of the schools(this was pointed out in letter the editor this morning). Hopewell High is the perfect example.

CMS builds these super-sized schools, overcrowds them right out of the gate, and puts them in the middle of nowhere.

The result is 1000's of buses and even more idling cars emitting harmful gas into the atmosphere.

Why not build schools half or one-third the size and make them the centerpieces of neighborhoods so that the majority of kids can walk to school?

This policy alone would make the citizens satifaction rate with CMS skew immediately upward.

Rick said...

Pete, you are talking neighborhood schools with no crazy student assignment plans.

One problem, Vilma Leake, George Dunlap, Coach Joe, Molly Griffin and the CMS bureaucracy won't allow it.

Good point on the green aspects though.

By the way, I've got nothing against green buildings at all. As I had mentioned on the previous thread, the new Hearst tower in NYC is awesome - and very green.

The difference here is that CMS uses tax dollars and the Hearst tower was primarily private. I say primarily because I'm sure there was some govco corporate welfare thrown in there somewhere. Let the private sector work out the kinks and spend the extra money before spending public money on green "R&D" when we have more pressing needs.

So as Lewis says, the CMS building discussion is primarily about waste. If and when the green becomes cost effective (and not just over the lifetime of the building, but in an immediate positive cash flow manner), then green would not be "wasteful" in a monetary sense and would actually support the immediate need of building schools. This is because the saved operational expenses from the green aspects would then more than offset the interest on the additional capital expenditure.

This savings could then be pumped back into building more schools without further gouging the taxpayer.

Anonymous said...

The reason most schools are built in BFE is because they "use" county land that was bought for future parks.

Those YNC buildings are now mandated to be LEED.

Anonymous said...

Publicly run education should be dissolved completely.

Us rich white folk are better off on our own, and the rest either sleep through class or cuss out their teacher when they bother to show up at all.

The whole public education system is a joke.

Lewis Guignard said...

Anon of 2/14 8:25 PM.

Please desist with the racist stereotyping comments.

They accomplish nothing beyond exhibiting your lack of knowledge and ability to exchange ideas.

Which is why, one must suppose, you hide such comments behind anonymity.