Green School, Great Community

September 13, 2007

by Claris Olson, HSC Environmental Health Specialist

Second in a three-part series

I was recently able to join a group of teachers on a tour of Great Seneca Creek Elementary School in Germantown, Md.  This was the first school to be certified LEED-Gold in Maryland under the new LEED standard for schools developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.  (The tour was part of an Indoor Environmental Quality training hosted by the American Federation of Teachers.)

Although this school was less than 50 miles from Washington D.C., it was a world apart in every way from the inner city school I visited nearby and discussed in an earlier blog.   

From the outside, the school didn’t appear to be much different from any other newly constructed suburban school–but when we stepped inside and took a closer look, I was amazed at what I saw. 

The first thing we noticed was how bright the rooms were and how comfortable the air temperature was.  Even though it was a sweltering July day, inside the temperature remained a comfortable 75 degrees without the use of air conditioning. The rooms were filled with soft natural daylight.

When the outside temperatures reach extremes, the school is equipped with a geothermal heating and air conditioning system that in the summer cools the air to 65 degrees at a fraction of  the cost of conventional air conditioning systems. 

Around the school are display signs used to teach students, staff and visitors about the green features in the school. The signs explained every detail: that the restroom partitions are made from recycled plastic bottles, the cabinets are made from wheat straw (a rapidly renewable resource), and that the toilets have dual flushing modes.

Besides these impressive features, one of the most interesting things we learned was how this school made an impact on the community. 

The school replaced two other schools that were merged into one. Since its completion, the school has really been embraced by the community and has become a place where community members want to come, volunteer, and be a part of the children’s education so they could help make things even better. 

This was a great experience and such a beautiful school — but you don’t have to take my word for it. To learn more, join us at our Lunch and Learn on Green Design in Action on November 6, where Anja Caldwell, Green Building Program Manager for Montgomery County Public Schools and “proud parent” of Great Seneca school, will tell us more about the green features of this school and Montgomery County’s vision for green schools in the future.