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UCPS goes 'green' with Wolfe design

UCPS construction officials are working on getting Wolfe School designated LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certified. LEED is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings.

The newest school to open its doors in Union County is Wolfe School, a 26,000-square-foot facility that specializes in educating special needs students.

The school, established in the late 1970s, has about 75 students.  After being housed in several locations over the years, the school recently moved into its brand new building on Brewer Drive. 

The school was built with a “green and sustainable” design that is thought to provide a better environment for the challenges these students face.

“We love it,” said school principal Stephanie McManus. “The building has a fantastic feel to it. Not only is it environmentally better, but also it’s healthier for our students. This is the best thing that could ever happen to these students.”

UCPS construction officials are working on getting the school designated LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certified. LEED is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings.

“The extra things you do to get LEED was a good thing for the Wolfe students because of their sensitivity to the environment, not the outdoor environment – the built environment,” said Don Hughes, director of UCPS Facilities, Planning and Construction. "These students are more sensitive to lighting and VOCs (volatile organic compounds).”VOCs are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids like paints, building materials, furnishings, glues and adhesives.

One of the reasons this school was chosen for the LEED Certification is the special environmental needs of its students. The school’s small size (26,000 square-feet rather than the normal 96,000 square-feet of the average elementary school) also makes the design elements required for the LEED Certification more affordable.

Natural lighting rather than fluorescent and higher frequency of air circulation are just two of the features of this new school building. “Our students respond better to natural light than artificial light,” McManus said. 

Some of the design elements at Wolfe School include using linoleum rather than tile. Linoleum is made with linseed oil and other natural elements and does not require glues when placed. 

The school also uses ground-source heat pumps fed by 20 geothermal wells that are about 300 feet deep. The refrigerant from the heat pumps, which is in tubes, runs into the ground and is stabilized without the need for electricity or gas, saving energy.

For the autistic students at the school, there are low-stimulant classrooms equipped with work booths specially designed to provide a learning environment that helps these children stay focused on the lesson. 

There is even a classroom designed with everything needed to simulate independent living, in which students can learn how to do such things as cook, do laundry or make the bed. “It’s wonderful to have a design that can support the teachers educating our students. The students love the new building. There is a fantastic sense of pride.”

In this day of global concern for the environment, going “green” (environmentally friendly) is essential for the future of our children, which is why building “green and sustainable” schools has become the mantra of the UCPS building projects.

“We’re doing things that are green and sustainable to be good stewards of the Earth,” Hughes said. “We should not deplete the resources of our grandchildren. We have to leave something for them.”

Green building is the practice of increasing the efficiency with which buildings use resources (energy, water, and materials), while reducing building impacts on human health and the environment, through better siting, design, construction, operation, maintenance, and removal.

Building green means attempting to construct more energy-efficient buildings by utilizing the sun to warm the facility in the winter, while blocking its rays to help cool in summer months. Instead of going to the landfill, all waste from the construction site go to a recycling center.

Hughes said the school system hopes to build all future elementary, middle and high schools with a green and sustainable design in mind.

New Town and Rocky River were the first elementary schools to work toward the green and sustainable design, while Stallings Elementary will be the third UCPS school. Hughes said elementary school “L” and middle and high schools “D” will be also be green and sustainable.

According to the US Green Building Council, there are environmental, economic, health and community benefits from building green.

Environmental benefits of building green are to enhance and protect ecosystems and biodiversity; improve air and water quality; reduce solid waste; and conserve natural resources. The economic benefits include the reduction of operating costs, while enhancing asset value and profits.

The health and community benefits include improving air, thermal, and acoustic environments; enhancing the occupants’ comfort and health; minimize the strain on local infrastructure; and contributing to overall quality of life.

Written by: Deb Coates Bledsoe, Publications Coordinator
Posted: Mar 24, 2008 by Deb Coates Bledsoe

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