Next week school goes back and this reminded me of some sustainable schools I read about last year. I’m a librarian doing research on teenagers’ reading habits so I read School Library Journal. The September 2007 issue had an article on sustainably designed schools Going Green: Eco-friendly Schools by Debra Lau Whelan.
In late 2005, the New York City Council created a set of sustainable standards for public construction projects, making New York the first and largest school district to have green school design, construction, and operation guidelines required by law. 
The schools Whelan writes about are all in the US and have some or all of:
wind and solar power generation
geothermal heating and cooling systems
constructed wetlands that recycle water
exterior solar shading made from reclaimed timber
paints and furnishings made from low-volatile organic compounds
vegetable/kitchen gardens and composting
eco-friendly technology such as energy efficient flat-screen monitors .
On average, these schools use 33% less energy and 32% less water. Sustainable construction costs a little more, but only 1.5-2% more than conventional building. This can be recouped in about two years from decreased running costs and after that the school can save $US100,000 each year. Sustainable schools also teach classes in caring for the environment, on topics such as recycling, remembering to turn off lights, and growing food in school gardens.
In Australia celebrity chef Stephanie Alexander started the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation to enable schools in Victoria to grow kitchen gardens and prepare the produce in school . This began at Collingwood College in inner Melbourne and was taken up by more than 160 Victorian schools in 2007, with the Victorian state government providing some funding. Much of the cost must be supplied by the school, through fundraising, in-kind contributions from parents and volunteers to help manage the garden and food preparation. Employing a (part-time) gardener and chef is the most expensive aspect and may be outside a school’s ability to fund continuously.
The local primary school near my house has a vegetable garden. It was previously a rose garden, but in 2006 the roses were removed and replaced with vegetables and herbs. (The roses were replanted elsewhere in the school.) Four raised beds were constructed with limestone brick surrounds (this seemed a bit excessive). A stone fruit tree grows in the middle.
At the start of 2007 their tomato plants were huge and produced equally huge tomatoes. This was during the summer holidays and no one was there to harvest them. I saw them when they were green and meant to go back when they were ripe, but I forgot. The beds were planted with a variety of winter vegies in 2007: cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, broad beans, onions, leeks, numerous herbs, but also tomatoes (which surprised me). The tomato plants never grew very big, but in June/July (the middle of winter) they fruited. Also in winter the garden had a big snail problem, particularly on their cauliflower and cabbage.
The ongoing costs and staff-time might have become a problem because after the winter crop, the beds weren’t replanted. The marigolds, onions and herbs continued, but no one harvested the onions. Every so often when I walked Sheeba the dog past I picked an onion, because no one seemed to want them. In one bed some eucalyptus seedlings popped up. Since the heatwave in December everything else has died. Perhaps when school goes back they will replant the vegies.
The London borough school of the children of Matt from Environment Solutions won a Greenest School Award. Their garden is on the school’s roof, always an option if there’s not much space.
And in energy generation, Crazy Mumma’s daughter’s school received solar panels in 2007 as a
parting gift to the school from the Year 12 students…to be connected to the electricity grid, to help reduce the carbon footprint of the school.
Barry, Ange (2007) “Real food, real relationships” The Australia Institute News, no.50, p.11-12.