Center for Green Schools

Photo Credit: Center for Green Schools

South Florida is home to some of the largest school districts in America. Have you ever wondered if your child is learning in a healthy environment? Research shows that a school’s physical environment can significantly affect students’ health and ability to learn. Building designs and materials used for construction can contaminate the environment of classrooms and distract students from lessons. When a classroom is made with non-polluting or regenerative materials and uses sunlight to naturally light up the room, children’s concentration, productivity, and health improves. One of the best ways to ensure a healthy building environment is through the LEED School rating system.

LEED is the acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is the most widely used green building rating system in the world with 1.85 million square feet of construction space certifying every day. As described by the U.S Green Building Council (USGBC),   “LEED certification provides independent verification of a building or neighborhood’s green features, allowing for the design, construction, operations and maintenance of resource-efficient, high-performing, healthy, cost-effective buildings. LEED is the triple bottom line in action, benefiting people, planet and profit.” USGBC is a non-profit group responsible for the design and implementation of the LEED certification system. Their goal is to guide us in making the world a more sustainable and healthy place to live and work in. LEED Schools is a rating system within LEED that is designed to apply to the educational building world.

Studies show that productivity and performance levels of students increase at LEED School buildings. The USGBC’s new LEED Schools v4 certification program looks at several important factors when providing guidelines for a healthy and sustainable school environment. Seven of the most critical factors are:

  1. Is the school located on a Brownfield site? Land that has been contaminated needs to be remediated before building and allowing students and staff to work there.
  2. Is bicycling encouraged in the design and location of the school building? This is important for the physical health of children.
  3. Are the chemicals used in building materials reported and did the manufacturer consider the effects on human health? What are the levels of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in paints, adhesives, flooring, sealants, and furniture? Reducing VOCs to levels much lower than standard building products is important.
  4. Was the building properly ventilated? Was air flushed out to eliminate or reduce the effects of off-gassing chemicals? How well ventilated is the school with fresh outdoor air?
  5. Are the classrooms acoustically insulated so students and teachers can hear each other well without outside distractions?
  6. Does the school have high-quality lighting, access to natural daylight, and quality views of the outdoors?
  7. Are mechanical equipment and controls working to expectations? Are HVAC designed with thermal comfort in mind so students can be comfortable enough to focus on their lessons?Conservatory School - LEED Gold Certified
Photo Credit: The Conservatory School; LEED Gold Certified

Many educational institutions around the world use the LEED certification to guide  construction projects and to operate and maintain their buildings. In South Florida, the Spinnaker Group has helped to certify the following educational facilities under LEED:

  • St. Stephen’s Day School in Miami
  • the University of Miami Frost School of Music’s North and South buildings and Schwartz Athletic Center,
  • The Conservatory School in North Palm Beach,
  • Broward College’s Science Health Science Simulation Lab,
  • Florida International University’s School of International & Public Affairs,
  • St. Andrews School in Boca Raton

These schools, institutions and facilities are now much healthier and more sustainable than the average school buildings, helping to improve the students’ ability to learn and prosper.

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Jesse Rittenhouse is the Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors for Dream in Green, the Vice President of the USGBC Miami Branch, and a LEED Project Manager with The Spinnaker Group