When it comes to constructing green schools, Alberta is at the head of the class.
It started four years ago, when Alberta adopted the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver standard for all new government-funded buildings, including new schools.
The benefits to students and staff are evident. LEED silver schools provide a healthier learning and working environment through improved air quality and use of natural light, in addition to being more energy-efficient and costing less to operate.
The LEED silver rating system got its first schools assignment in 2007 when the province announced the Alberta Schools Alternative Procurement (ASAP) Phase I project to meet the need for new schools in growing communities.
ASAP I, a unique made-in-Alberta public-private partnership model, resulted in the construction of 18 LEED silver schools for Edmonton and Calgary that opened to students in September 2010. The schools are a combination of elementary school grade configurations, including Kindergarten to Grade 9 schools. While constructed and built to the LEED silver standard, the schools await official LEED certification from the council.
ASAP Phase II was announced in 2008 and features 14 additional new schools in the Edmonton and Calgary regions, all designed to meet, at minimum, the LEED silver standard. The Phase II project consists of 10 elementary and middle schools, as well as four high schools.
The government has mandated that the Phase II schools achieve a minimum of six LEED energy points. Energy points are achieved by incorporating energy-efficient measures in the building construction and operation.
With four possible levels of certification (certified, silver, gold and platinum), LEED accommodates a wide range of green building strategies. A contractor has the decision-making power to decide how the LEED silver requirements and energy points are achieved. To ensure energy efficiencies, consultants build intricate building energy models to replicate a building design and evaluate expected performance.
In ASAP I schools, to achieve energy efficiency and energy points, many state-of-the-art systems were used, including energy-efficient lighting, lighting controls, heat recovery displacement ventilation and high-efficiency boilers. Energy efficiency is also achieved through select building materials such as wood and concrete.
While LEED silver buildings cost about five percent more to build when compared to buildings constructed to the traditional National Energy Code for Buildings standards, LEED silver buildings are up to 47 percent more energy efficient and the payback period for the additional capital investment is usually in the range of three to five years based on energy savings.
The reduction in the environmental footprint of an ASAP school is difficult to assess at this time, though waste diverted from landfills, recycled materials, local content, low volatile organic materials and paints, and energy and water efficiencies all affect the footprint in a positive manner.
Also unique to the ASAP schools projects is the creation of a core school design for specific grade configurations. In addition to providing a blueprint for contractors to purchase construction materials in volume, the schools also feature high-performance modular classrooms that can be added or removed to adjust to changing student populations. The modular classrooms are also held to the same high standard of efficiency in construction.
Additional features that set the ASAP LEED schools apart from the rest include, on the ASAP I schools, outlets to charge electric vehicles and reserve stalls to encourage carpooling. The school boards’ use of green cleaning products and a recycling program are also LEED requirements that complement the new schools.
One could say that in Alberta, there is a silver lining around the move to green schools.
Tim Chamberlin is a public affairs officer with Alberta Education.
Adopted by the Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC), the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system encourages worldwide adoption of sustainable green buildings and development practices by creating and implementing universally understood and accepted criteria. LEED certification is designated and achieved following an independent review and audit, and is based on five key areas: sustainable sites; water efficiency; energy and atmosphere; materials and resources; and indoor environmental quality.