The Multi-Million Dollar Green Dream

INADEQUATE PLANNING & NARROW VISION

Yesterday at the green school kickoff meeting at the Waterfront, Dr. Manchin of the School Building Authority laid out a challenge: to make Monongalia County’s new green elementary school

“the crown jewel of sustainable buildings in West Virginia.”

Dr. Manchin wants

“people from all over to see one of the best green schools in the US.”

So it was disturbing to hear no talk of greenhouses and solariums. As many people are aware, even some non-green schools have greenhouses. Unfortunately these are often neglected due to lack of expertise. Greenhouse ventilation can be tricky, so possibly an extensive double-or-triple-room sized solarium should be attached to the side of the school, talking advantage of the school’s ventilation system, however modified. Can a green school truly call itself green without an active growing space? Where better to study life sciences, and even do plenty of related work in math and reading and social studies classes…. Such a space can be partly built into the ground to help thermally regulate it.

The outdoors area of the proposed school site at the 705/119 intersection on the Mileground is, frankly, irredeemably polluted and lousy, so the outside would have to be massively made up for on the inside. If one large living solarium is too much to handle, possibly numerous pod-like solariums could substitute, or several substantial living green pads.

MAKE IT GREEN TO THE PUBLIC

How else to make a green school fully green? Such a facility should be ecologically-minded toward the community; that is, it should involve the public as fully as possible in design and operation, particularly regarding extra-curricular education, exercise, and gathering opportunities, which might include such things as year-round access to:

  • an indoor walking track (and gym, exercise aids)
  • a theater (plays and movies, not just an auditorium)
  • a conference room or multipurpose room so that the public could hold such gatherings as the “kickoff” meeting and not have to pay, unless rental fees are necessary

After all, if the green school is supposed to be the “crown jewel of sustainable buildings in West Virginia,” in Dr. Manchin’s words, and since Dr. Manchin “want[s] people from all over to see one of the best green schools in the US”…then it had better not be merely an energy efficient but essentially cookie cutter neglected school building, like too many other buildings. It should be ecological, oriented toward the community, and heavily used, not least given its central location. Otherwise all this would essentially be a big hullabaloo about a few nice progressive eco standards. Indoor year-round use would be necessary, since people can hardly do much outdoors at an uncommonly noisy (due to the 705 cliffs across the hollow) major traffic intersection.

ADDITIONAL IMPORTANT DETAILS

  • Green roofs, no small matter. The roofs are intended to collect rainwater? Fine, but WVU has 3 green roofs, one with flora growing on it. Such a roof cuts down on air and sound pollution and helps thermally regulate the buildings, plus extends roof life two to three times, reportedly. (If this school would get built on the Woodburn sidehill obviously exceptional green roofing and gardens would be central and essential.)
  • The architects intend to sink perhaps 60 boreholes 200-600 feet under a parking lot to use as a geo-thermal energy transfer system: a concern might be going through mines to do this, mine gas, stability, breakage, etc. Maybe it’s completely feasible even so; however, it should be noted that there are no mines under Woodburn school grounds, where a lawsuit might land this school yet.
  • Nothing at the meeting was said about how the unusual noise and air pollution of the site is to be controlled for. A green roof, that is a living roof, would help in both regards, but what is the plan to further minimize the carbon monoxide from the surrounding thruways and reduce the cancerous particulate discharge? In other words, what is the plan to keep the outdoor air issues from affecting indoor air quality?
  • Furthermore, despite the challenged intersection air, there should be a ballfield or two, perhaps partly walled off by earthen mounds and dense shrubbery and trees in the far corner. Neither of the two newest elementary schools in Monongalia County (Skyview and Mylan Park) have either play fields or ballfields or walking tracks. Those oversights need to be corrected at those schools and must not happen with any green school, no matter its location, especially since the children at the trailer park adjacent to the proposed Mileground site frequently play outdoors regardless. Ask the kids what they want. They will likely want play fields, and probably some running water fountains indoors and outdoors, and so on. Why not? The expense and maintenance is minimal. It’s a green school. It should be done. And it should start a trend throughout Mon schools. (Even this minor cost too much? Sponsorships could pay for some of these items, but that should be for the public to decide.)

GREEN SCHOOLS ARE MORE THAN SIGNAGE

There was much talk about “signage” and “little green lights” that would inform people, as if at a discovery center, about geothermal pipes, when they are working, and rainwater collection and so on, having the kids compete to use the least amount of wasteful electricity in their rooms and so on, which is all to the good but rather limited in scope, especially when one looks at the severe environmental challenges of the proposed intersection site. No reason there could not be a slope-walled (and thus quieted) walking garden on one or all of the roofs, for example, in addition to lower-maintenance green roofs (Not a vegetable garden of course but a teaching green space and an “intensive” green roof with sloped walls covered in greenery that would be eye-catching from the surrounding highways.)

If we are to take Dr. Manchin’s challenging and aspiring words seriously such considerations will have to be taken very seriously, many or all carried out, and, one would expect, surpassed. The BOE, WVU, the City, the architects, and community members should all come together to make sure that a serious and innovative effort is made to meet Dr. Manchin’s sweeping challenge. Otherwise the would-be pace-setting dream green school will turn out to be a city joke. High traffic intersections are notoriously dirty, not least in coal country. To meet the standard set by Dr. Manchin today this green school, really at whatever location, is going to need to amount to a good bit more than the glistening white pipes, glass, and concrete displayed in the slides at the kickoff.

One Response to “The Multi-Million Dollar Green Dream”

  1. Susan Says:

    Thanks for the article, Tony. I’d like to see more green emphasis on the grounds, because the students will be out there, pollution or not. I have a great resource called Greening School Grounds: Creating Habitats for Learning where different curricular activities are tied into the natural green habitat around the school. Why make an ordinary playground? You could create play space that included boulders, wetlands, rock gardens ( a little Zen?), trees to play in and around, outdoor seating and gardening areas. DON’T make it typical like all other schools! And why couldn’t the students help with a vegetable garden that supplied fresh vegetables and fruits to the cafeteria? If Manchin wants to be creative, he should at least do what many, many schools are doing now with growing their own food. Manchin is a bit myopic… we are behind the times. He’s going to have to think BIG to get the attention of anyone beyond WV.


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