Bradenton Private School LEEDs Manatee County In Going Green

When Zachary Bessette walked into his new "green'' middle school after the winter holiday break, the first thing he noticed was the lack of odor.

"The new school doesn't smell,'' seventh-grader Zachary says. "Now that we have a school that's good for the environment, we don't have to smell fumes all the time. We are learning a lot about the environment and how to save it.''

Zachary and more than 120 students attend the environmentally friendly Saint Stephen's Episcopal School in Bradenton. The school, which previously operated out of the second floor of the campus church, is among the first publicly registered schools in the Tampa Bay region to seek a LEED "gold'' certification by the U.S. Green Building Council.

LEED, which stands for Leadership, Energy, Environment, and Design, is a highly coveted award, and school boosters aim to achieve the designation by the end of the school year.

"We are working hard for this,'' says Jennifer Vigne, Saint Stephen's director of development. "The designation is special, not just because of what we are doing with the new school, but because the students are learning the importance of going green and the effects on the environment. ... To see the way the kids are treating the new school and taking advantage of the greening has been a special experience.''

Going green is a growing trend in schools throughout Manatee County. The new G.D. Rogers Garden Elementary School in Bradenton opened in August 2009 as the first Manatee County public school to be certified as a green school.

Investing For The Future

For Saint Stephen's leadership team, the opportunity to go green came with challenges different from those faced by public schools. Because the private school gets no state or federal funding, parents and alumni had to raise the funding necessary to move the school from the second floor of Christ Episcopal Church. Still, the $4.1 million project was completed in just nine months.

Vigne and Steve Arrington of Willis A. Smith Construction of Sarasota pushed hard for the project, believing that the cost of the transformation would be a good investment because it will pay for itself eventually.

The school, for instance, will pay 25 percent less for energy and will use 40 percent less water than a more traditionally constructed school of an equal size. The difference, Arrington estimates, should help the school recoup the additional costs incurred in about five years. After that, Arrington says, every dollar saved is a bonus.

Improvements in the school atmosphere are noticeable beyond the lack of odors. Consider the all-green sound-absorbent ceiling tiles. Students in science classes no longer have to concentrate over the sounds of school band class next door.

Students eagerly helped move boxes and books from their old classrooms to the new building, named the Sunlight Building after the benefactor, the Sunshine Natural Wellbeing Foundation.

"We are interested in the students knowing the importance of taking an ownership of the Earth,'' Vigne says. "We had this vision of a school that was environmentally friendly, and we wanted to show the students a way to create global actions and how to take care of the Earth.''

Saving Energy Through Recycling

Just about everything from the windows to the cabinets to the carpeting is green and contains very small amounts of toxic chemicals. The school has automatic lights in each room. Restrooms and classrooms have motion sensors that allow the lights to shut off automatically after a brief period of non-use.

The building also has low-flow faucets and low-volume irrigation sprinklers. Even the carpeting is made from recycled materials, and one room is used strictly for recycling.

Much of the material used to build the new school was made out of waste from landfills. Five dumpsters are being used to segregate and recycle leftover materials.

The school also has two sloped-metal storm roofs that help facilitate drainage and reflect the sunlight to provide for even more free energy.

The school slogan, "Go Green and Gold,'' based on LEED objectives, is posted proudly throughout the school. Students encourage each other to "reduce, reuse and recycle,'' and a "Go Green'' day is planned in April when students will be encouraged to get to school by carpooling, bicycling or taking a bus.

"We never really used to think about recycling at home,'' says eighth-grader Jaqueline Perron. "We just started to recycle and I talked my grandparents into doing it. If we don't protect the environment, nobody else will.''

The eighth-graders will get only half a  year to enjoy the new school before moving to the high school that sits next to the new middle school. So it's the seventh-graders who are serving as "tour guides'' for the new school.

"We have everything we could want here and it makes it fun to come to school,'' says Morgan Healey. "We have new markers to write with on the boards. Now when I smell the old ones, they make me sick. This year's been great, but next year, when we have it to ourselves, that's really going to be awesome.''

Growing From Lessons Learned

School Director Janet Pullen said that, even though Saint Stephen's is a private school that supports itself, she hopes others in Manatee County learn from the private school's experiences in order to prepare for an impending population boom and the anticipated need for new schools.

More than 25,000 new homes are scheduled to be built in the Parrish and Ellenton area in the northeast part of the county in coming years, and while Palmetto Elementary is also being rebuilt, plenty of new schools will be needed.

"We can only hope to be a catalyst for all of the new schools and even the ones that are still here,'' Pullen says. "If we get the gold, that will really mean something to us and the rest of the schools in the county and in the entire Tampa Bay region.''

Saint Stephen's plans call for additional all-green athletic facilities, a new athletic center and a new performing arts building.

Jeff Berlinicke of Tampa is a freelance writer who has spent much of the last 15 covering professional sports all over the Southeast United States. When not rooting for his favorite teams, he often can be found listening to Bruce Springsteen or teeing up on local golf courses. Comments? Contact 83 Degrees.
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