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PS 276 Leads The Way In Green School Design

PS 276, also known as the Battery Park City School, opened in 2009 to alleviate overcrowding in its Lower Manhattan neighborhood and serves children in prekindergarten through eighth grade. It is also the first public school in New York City specifically designed and built to be a green school.

The discreet glass solar panels that extend over the entrance of the building, which will soon be collecting solar energy for the school, are the first indication that this public school is in a league of its own when it comes to sustainable education. Immediately confirming this impression is the high-tech video monitor in the lobby, which will receive data from the school’s solar panels and other energy sources to show students how much energy the school is generating and how much it’s consuming. To help students better understand the amount of energy the school is saving, the figure will be illustrated by showing its equivalent in planted trees or removed-from-the-road cars.

The school, which was designed by Dattner Architects and built under the New York City School Construction Authority’s Green Schools Guide, is reported to have cost $80 million. Of that, $37 million came from the Battery Park City Authority, which paid for all the “green” details of the school such as the solar panels, sustainable building materials, and low-flow plumbing fixtures. The school’s “roof-mounted photovoltaic cells alone generate 50 kilowatts of energy, roughly one-third of the energy needed to light the school,” according to Dattner Architects’ website. The firm estimates that the school’s high-efficiency boilers, extra insulation, and photovoltaic solar panels will reduce the school’s energy costs by 25 percent.

One reigning feature of green architecture is lots of windows to reduce the need for overhead lighting, and PS 276 has no shortage of those in its classrooms with views overlooking the Hudson River. To further ensure the least amount of overhead light is used, light sensors in each classroom respond to the amount of daylight coming in and automatically dim should the sun suddenly peak out from a patch of clouds. The light sensors also respond to motion: If the sensors detect no motion in the classroom, the lights will automatically turn off. Principal Terri Ruyter admits this can be a problem when students are quietly working at their desks.

Principal Ruyter tries to cultivate a green school culture that goes beyond the physical building. The school has a full-time science teacher committed to cultivating an appreciation of the natural world in the younger students while teaching environmental science to the older ones. The school has raised garden beds lining the perimeter of its outdoor science roof for gardening and an extensive recycling program in its cafeteria and classrooms: Students are expected to recycle not just paper, but milk cartons, aluminum foil, juice cartons, even toilet paper rolls. Students are also encouraged to take the stairs instead of the elevators when needing to go to the second, third, or fourth floors.

Obviously, most city schools don’t have millions of dollars to invest in photovoltaic cells and other green technology to reduce their energy consumption. But much of what PS 276 is doing to be more sustainable can easily be imitated at other schools at little to no cost. Here are just a few lessons I jotted down while touring the school:

  1. Replace regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent ones and do it as a fundraiser for your school.
  2. Turn off lights when a classroom is not in use.
  3. Make sure your custodian lowers the school’s thermostats at night.
  4. Create a fun and colorful bulletin board in the cafeteria and in classrooms to make sure students, teachers, and staff are recycling.
  5. Get a farmbox and start planting some vegetables and herbs.
  6. Create a “Green Team” at your school comprised of your principal, teachers, parents and students to find other ways to make your school more sustainable.

About our First Person series:

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