Did you know that, on any given school day, school buildings house up to 20% of the American population (Schneider 2002)? Unfortunately, while green buildings in general garner a lot of press, movement has been slow to improve the state of America’s schools. The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) has taken on this challenge.
What is CHPS?
CHPS provides resources to create the most natural and healthy learning environments, where teaching and learning can meet their highest potentials. “High performance” applies to the school building as much as to the student body.
CHPS began in 1999 as a meeting of minds among California’s utility operators and the California Energy Commission to address energy efficiency in California’s schools. The collaboration soon spread to include all facets of school design, construction and operation. Now CHPS has design resources for over a dozen states, and boasts a membership and governance that includes organizations from the government, non-profit and private sectors.
CHPS has published green school design criteria for thirteen states, which set benchmarks for environmentally and socially optimized structural and functional designs. The Criteria manuals are just one part of a six-volume Best Practices Manual that covers planning, design, maintenance/operations, commissioning and a special chapter on modular classrooms. The Criteria balance environmental measures, aesthetics and the practicalities necessary for a fully functional school.
For example, the indoor environmental quality section of Virginia’s manual sets out not only standards for the ubiquitous HVAC system, but also less common “view windows.” These “provide a connection between indoor spaces and the outdoor environment through the introduction of sunlight and views into the occupied areas of the building,” a far cry from the windowless, fluorescent-lit classrooms of previous generations.
These are just some of the innovations that can be seen on CHPS’s video case study of California’s first CHPS Verified School, High Tech High Chula Vista. Verification is the highest achievement for a high performance school, since both the design and construction components go in for close scrutiny by an independent assessor additional to CHPS’s own review. For those top echelon schools, Rivanna has designed and created a custom plaque from FSC-certified materials. Our plaque is featured in the video, but the school building itself and the energized students are the true highlights.
In a 2002 article for the National Clearinghouse for Education Facilities, Mark Schneider conducted a review of available research on the affect school facilities have on academic outcomes and concludes that “what is needed… [is] clean air, good light, and a quiet, comfortable, and safe learning environment... It simply requires adequate funding and competent design, construction, and maintenance.” In reference to lighting in particular, he notes “that daylight fosters higher student achievement.” CHPS puts all these principles into practice.
Low costs are also built-in. CHPS asserts, “High performance schools are specifically designed using life cycle cost methods to minimize the long-term costs of ownership.”
Aside from the point that carefully designed school buildings promote higher academic achievement, incorporating eco design principles into the learning experiences of our children give them an excellent opportunity to see environmental and health decision-making in action. With such far-reaching potential, we are honored to play our small part. We salute CHPS and their important work on behalf of our nation’s schools!
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