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Eco-friendly overhaul earns kudos for local public schools

Monday, Dec. 23 | By Hannah Dellinger
Fauquier County Public Schools achieved recognized green certification for its efforts to implement new sustainable policies and practices.

The Virginia School Board recognized Fauquier County for the measures taken thus far to achieve sustainability in its school facilities at its annual meeting at the end of November. The green certification puts the school district in the running for VSBA’s 2014 Green Schools Challenge, in which Virginia school systems compete on a “green points” system in order to encourage sustainability efforts. The district is now one of 38 school divisions in the state to earn green certification.

According to Greg Livesay, the director of the facilities department, the VSBA’s green certification has been the department’s goal for about three years.

“It’s pretty comprehensive on what (VSBA) requires you to do. Over the years we’ve been building and putting the necessary components in place.

FCPS had more than the required 100 “green points” necessary to certify. The point system covers a wide range of areas including energy conservation, recycling, green cleaning, and student’s curriculum on learning about the environment and ways to conserve.

“From an operational standpoint, first and foremost was to change the custodial operations to be more environmentally friendly,” said Livesay.

New eco-friendly finishes covered floors in 10 of the 20 public schools in Fauquier County. The new green finishes produce much less waste than the old standard ones. With the old finishes, the floors had to be stripped with toxic chemicals every summer. The process created a chemical sludge that ended up in the county's sewers.

The new green floor finish doesn’t have to be completely stripped each year and requires half the maintenance of the old finishes. Green finishes also don’t contain any volatile organic compounds.

The number of chemicals used to clean the school has been reduced substantially. A new hydrogen peroxide-based cleaning product that is extremely environmentally safe is being piloted at South Eastern Elementary School and Pearson Elementary School. If the new cleaning product works out, it will reduce the number of cleaning products used in the schools to four.

A new integrated pest management policy was adopted in an effort to utilize less toxic chemicals in the schools.

“Instead of just coming in and treating a kitchen once a month for roaches, we monitor and then treat so that you’re reducing the amount of pesticides that your applying in a school,” said Livesay.

On top of being more conservative with the number of fumigations, the new integrated plan requires pest contractors to start with the least toxic treatment possible. If that treatment fails, then the next treatment can be more potent.

FCPS also has a green equipment replacement plan for custodians. HEPA (High-efficiency particulate absorption) filtered vacuums are phasing out the old vacuums as they break or need to be replaces. The new HEPA-filtered vacuums help to reduce air born particles and pathogens.

Another area that the VSBA looks act when considering a green certification is the design of new construction is accordance to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. FCPS’s renovation of Fauquier High School has followed LEED guidelines through out the project.

In accordance to LEED standards, many of the materials that were demolished or removed from FHS were recycled and repurposed. All of the seating in the old auditorium, which was from the 1960’s, was repurposed and given to a school in South America.

FCPS’s energy conservation efforts also played a role in its green certification. Geothermal heating and air conditioning systems have began to replace the old mechanical boilers and coolers, lowering energy costs. The geothermal technology uses ground water to control the amount of heat in the air.

Recycling efforts on FCPS’s behalf were also considered. The recycling rate for all FCPSs has risen from 13.4 percent for fiscal year 2012 to 21.5 percent for this fiscal year to date.

FCPS has a pilot program with the Fauquier Parks and Recreation Department involving new waste receptacles that have recycling containers on one side and trash containers on the other. The new receptacles helped to reduce a large amount of waste and will be placed in all of the schools that Parks and Rec serve for FCPS.
According to Patricia Coe-Foley, the office and account manager for the schools' facilities and construction department, part of the recycling program involves a great deal of educational programing for the students.

“We have a lot of fun challenges for the kids and we have a recycle coordinator in each school. We meet regularly and we do stuff like the ‘Great American Locker Clean Out,’” said Coe-Foley.

The “Great American Locker Clean Out” involves cleaning out student’s lockers and reusing items such as new unused notebooks or binders. Other programs include a recycling and environmental poster competition for all schools and grade levels. Fauquier High School's outdoor lab also sees use as an environmental teaching resource. It is a place for students to learn about conservation, environmental issues, and reusable energy sources from their science instructors.

“I think as a school district over all, we’re working hard to be environmentally conscious,” said Coe-Foley.

All of the schools have a friendly competition with each other to see who can recycle the most.

“When we go to senior staff meetings we hear the principals talk about who beat who this month on the recycling,” said Livesay.

FCPS’s asset replacement plan has also contributed to its green efforts. FCPS is in the process of changing out old lighting with more efficient light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Roofs that need to be replaced will be outfitted with white reflective roof membranes, so that less heat transfers into the buildings below, meaning less money spent on air conditioning.

The FCPS Transportation Department also has started efforts to reduce emissions.

Cheryl Fisher, the FCPS Director of Transportation, said that last year the department began using a GPS system to keep track of excessive idling.

“The transportation management system is like a GPS system. It makes us more efficient. You can compare suggested routes with the actual routes and it tells us when there’s excessive idling,” said Fisher.

The Fauquier County school division covered a lot of the areas that were covered in the green certification process in its strategic action plan, Aspirations 2015, which was developed in 2009. Former superintendent of schools, Dr. Jonathan Lewis, headed the action plan. The school board and the community developed the initiatives that were set forth in the plan.

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