An unprecedented increase in student populations between 1950 and 2 000 resulted in the construction of thousands of temporary classrooms across the US. What started as a make-shift solution turned into permanent fixtures as 300, 000 portables still provide venues for k-12 schools across the nation. Temporary classrooms are not designed for long-term use and 30 to 40 years down the line, they are unfit for occupation. Poor ventilation, mold and other hazards result in poor student’s health. Now a team of intrepid green construction experts are working to improve learning conditions by constructing healthy, sustainable schools.
Poor student health
The building materials and lack of adequate lighting and ventilation lead to a plethora of ailments. Annually, American children miss over 10 million school days thanks to asthma and other respiratory complaints as indoor air quality can be 2 to 5 times worse than outdoor air quality. This is mainly due to a lack of adequate ventilation, but can also be attributed to off-gasing from inorganic building materials and cleaning products.
Air pollution in schools costs up to a billion dollars a year in medical costs from conditions such as asthma, autism, ADD, childhood cancers and lead/mercury exposure. Thus far, only 5 states have laws governing the use of toxic chemicals and materials in schools.
Studies advocate the use of natural lighting in classrooms, something the temporary structures cannot adequately provide. Recent studies by Hathaway (1994), Taylor and Gouisie (1980) and Hawkins and Lilley (1992) show that an increase in natural light and exposure to sunshine has a significant improvement on concentration, mental attitude and vision. Students feel more comfortable and happy. Students who use the dimly-lit temporary structures often suffer from increased hyperactivity.
What children need
Natural lighting improves the health and academic achievements of students. A study by Heschong Mahone (1999), conducted in more than 2 000 classrooms across three school districts, found that students in classrooms which were naturally lit scored 20% higher on math tests and 26% higher on reading tests. Green buildings are not only healthier for students, they are also better for the environment as they utilize sustainable materials, use less energy and last longer. Green schools can reduce energy consumption by as much as 33% and water consumption by 30%.
The Green Schoolhouse Series is a project designed to instigate change in school structures and create healthy, green buildings for scholars. It is a unique blend of public sector and private sector collaboration that hopes to meet the educational needs of children while having a positive effect on the environment.
Funded by donations, and corporate sponsorship, the Green Schoolhouse Series brings together corporations, foundations, school districts, municipalities, communities, media outlets, and volunteers to build environmentally-sustainable schoolhouses on existing Title I, low-income K-12 public school campuses. These facilities are utilized for education during the day and serve the community after school hours. Not only does the Green Schoolhouse Series rely on corporate sponsorship, they also count on volunteers to help them with the construction of their LEED certified buildings. These LEED-Platinum schools also adhere to CHPS standards and are high-performance, healthy, energy efficient and safe.
Schools build in the Green Schoolhouse project are built using insulated concrete forms (ICFs), supplied by Amvic, which give them an incredible ability to withstand fire, strong winds, flooding and earthquakes. This makes them safer for children and, in many areas prone to violent storms, these strong schoolhouses second as community centers where local residents can take shelter in the event of inclement weather.
Check out the live streaming video from the latest Green Schoolhouse Series build at the Safari schoolhouse build at Roadrunner Elementary School. Here you can see the Amvic ICFs being filled with concrete.