On March 18, 2014 undergraduate and graduate students in Dr. Emmanuel Iyiegbuniwe’s Senior Environmental Seminar (ENV 486) and Principle of Environmental Health (PH 584) classes visited Richardsville Elementary School (RES) in Richardsville, Kentucky. The tour was guided by two RES students along with Jay Wilson, Director of Safety/Energy Manager (Warren County Public Schools), Don Sergent, Director of Community Relations (Warren County Public Schools) and Janice Casada, School Principal. RES prides itself as the first Net-Zero Energy public school in the United States. Simply put, the school produces as much clean energy with solar panels as it consumes, making it to operate without energy costs. The new RES building is a milestone in itself - it consumes 75% less energy than any other school, is LEED Gold-certified, and one of only 78 schools listed in the first ever National Green Ribbon Schools in the entire United States.
The $12.6 million two-story building with an area of 77,466 ft2 was designed for 550 elementary school students (pre-K through 6th-grade) was completed in 2010. The facility is situated on a hillside overlooking a community park and natural wooded ravine on the outskirt of Bowling Green, Kentucky. It provides classroom spaces (science, social science, math, art, music, reading, library, etc.), cafeteria, gymnasium and other functions. Mr. Jay Wilson told the students that the school building is “first of its kind” since it depends on sun for producing energy and uses a variety of energy saving strategies. One of the key features that contributed to achieving a net-zero energy status lies in the intricate building design. The building is constructed of insulated concrete foam walls that ensure temperature is sealed and controlled three times better than observed in most building materials. Another important and unique feature of the building is its active daylighting strategies with classrooms facing the sun so that devices (e.g., solar tubes or very large magnifying tubes placed in the ceilings of classrooms) can direct sunlight into the classes and not depend on artificial lighting during school hours.
To reduce energy usage, the architects focused on six key areas: high performance building envelope, geothermal HVAC (Heating Ventilation and Air Conditioning) with active daylighting, renewable energy sources (photovoltaic array supplying over 300 kW), very efficient kitchen cooking strategies, and efficient operations and maintenance plans. The design architects of RES believed in making use of sustainable resources, hence they used bamboo flooring in the gymnasium to demonstrate environmental sustainability. Another very important and attractive feature of the building is the flat screen TVs located in the main lobby and equipped to show real-time energy production of the solar panels. The School Principal noted that “students can take this information and apply it to nearly every subject, including math, social studies, science and reading.” Mr. Wilson added that the school has no computer labs and instead, they have computers on carts and I-pads. Overall students had a good learning experience in a school that is committed to not just saving energy, but making use of natural and renewable energy sources. Feedback from the reflection papers submitted by individual students who attended the field trip indicated that the experience was “great and the time spent at RES was well worth it.” In this regard, it is important to note that there are many challenges and difficulties in renewable energy generation. However, the idea of generating our energy from a sustainable source with no green gas emissions (i.e., a source that does not contribute to global warming) has a very powerful appeal from both economic and environmental public health perspectives.
The students who attended the field trip were: Alex Hunter, Ashley Pendley, Adam Kratt, Sophia Sterlin, Anusha Bitra, Dolapo Ayodele, Dominique Walker, Ethan Givan, Jasmine Morris, Grace Egbujor, Igwe John Igwe, Beauty Ikpefuran, Rama Lanke Brahman, Jasmon Harris, Kenneth Boards, Jahi Palmer, Namrata Bhanat, Shailee Shrestha, Sravana Jyothi, and Obuhoro Olosengbuan
Article submitted by Dr. Emmanuel Iyiegbuniwe