Healthy Schools: Green Building

A well-designed facility can enhance performance and make education a more enjoyable and rewarding experience, as well as reduce pollution and save a district money. The following features define a high performance school (also known as a sustainable school or a green school).

Healthy , Comfortable, Energy Efficient, Material Efficient
Water Efficient
Easy to Maintain and Operate
Environmentally Responsive Site
A Building That Teaches
Safe and Secure
Community Resource
Stimulating Architecture
Adaptable to Changing Needs.

Creating a school with these characteristics is not difficult, but it does require an integrated, “whole building” approach to the design process. Key systems and technologies must be considered together, from the beginning of the design process, and optimized based on their combined impact on the comfort and productivity of students and teachers. At the end of the process the entire facility will be optimized for long-term performance. The result will be a finished school that is an enduring asset to its community: one that enhances teaching and learning, reduces operating costs, and protects the environment.

High performance schools are cost-effective because they:

  • Can bring more money to the school by increasing average daily attendance,
  • Keep more money in the school by significantly reducing the utility bills, and
  • Can take advantage of available incentive programs.

When the avoided societal and district costs of workers compensation and litigation are also considered, high performance schools becomes an even wiser business choice for your school district.

School facilities are investments. State government and local communities spend billions of dollars per year on new facilities for current and future generations of students, bu the true cost of a school is much more than the price to design and build it. The long term costs of operating and maintaining the facility must also be included. Only by evaluating all three of these parameters can a community understand how much a new school really “costs.”

Note, however, that life-cycle costing will only address some of the benefits of High Performance Design. Many benefits, such as improved health and test scores, are valuable, but difficult to quantify monetarily.

High performance schools cost less to operate. School districts spend less for electricity, gas, water, maintenance, and other ongoing facility operating costs, enabling more money to be spent for salaries, books, teaching supplies and other items with a more immediate link to the true mission of schools: educating students.

Investing in high performance measures that increase the health of the school can bring monetary returns to your school. District funds come from a variety of State, Federal, and local sources, and every district has a unique blend of sources. High Performance Schools can increase the amount of school funding by increasing average daily attendance.

The considerable costs of poor school indoor environmental quality (IEQ)are paid by students, staff, parents, and the local community. In the school populations, the costs include poor health, reduced learning effectiveness, and increased frustration when IEQ problems become unmanageable. These costs are difficult to quantify. More easily counted are the strained budgets and staff resources expended by districts for facility repairs due to insufficient maintenance, community-relations damage control, litigation and workers compensation claims. In addressing such problems, schools must use resources that would otherwise be available for educational and other programs.


The Minnesota Sustainable Design Guide educates and assists architects, building owners, occupants, educators, students, and the general public concerning sustainable building design. The Guide is a design tool that can be used to overlay environmental issues on the design, construction, and operation of both new and renovated facilities. It can be used to set sustainable design priorities and goals; develop appropriate sustainable design strategies; and to determine performance measures to guide the sustainable design and decision-making processes. It can also be used as a management tool to organize and structure environmental concerns during the design, construction, and operations phases.

Collaborative for High Performance Schools
This California collaborative was formed to facilitate the design of high performance schools. CHPS has developed a comprehensive Best Practices Manual, with separate volumes for planning, design, and criteria to be designated a CHPS school.

Blueprint for a Green School (Jayni Chase, Scholastic, Inc., 1995)
This book covers several green building components in schools, such as water and energy conservation, waste reduction and recycling, indoor air quality, and sustainable gardening. A useful resource for projects in existing school buildings. Also provides a thorough guide to environmental education materials for teachers.

High Performance School Design on-line training –
Interactive courses on this site are offered free of charge as a public benefit for design and engineering professionals specializing in sustainable design for K-12 schools. –

US Green Building CouncilThe  U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) is the nation’s foremost coalition of leaders from every sector of the building industry working to promote buildings that are environmentally  responsible, profitable and healthy places to live and work. Their more than 6,000 member organizations work together to develop a variety of programs and services, and forge strategic alliances with key industry and research organizations and federal, state and local government agencies. As of September 2006, they are reviewing new guidelines for schools. Go to their website and search “schools.”

National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities High Performance School Resource ListNCEF’s resource list of documents, reports, links, books, and journal articles exploring high performance schools, including sustainability and green design issues, cost and funding concerns, and educational and community benefits.

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