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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Arizona Schools Go Green: Sustainable Schools

McCorkle Academy, Jes Ruvalcaba - Tucson Unified School District Photographer 4-2


By David M. Brown

Arizona schools have gone green, and many are graduating with honors.

From preschool to college, state educators are making sustainability a part of the standard curriculum, putting it into the bricks and up on the blackboards.

Four, among others, have attained exemplary grades: Shalom Montessori School, Scottsdale; Mary Belle McCorkle Academy of Excellence K-8, Tucson Unified School District #1; Marcos de Niza High School, Tempe Union High School District; and Prescott College.

“Sustainability is very important to schools because they are the keystone of our communities and future growth,” says Halleh Landon, chairwoman of the United States Green Building Council Arizona Green Schools Committee. The committee’s mission is to increase the number of green schools by recognizing and promoting sustainability efforts at educational facilities in Arizona.

The USGBC supports green schools at all levels, from preschool to college. Green schools focus on conserving energy and natural resources, improving indoor air quality, removing toxic materials from places where children learn and play, encouraging recycling, and teaching environmental awareness.

“All schools have the ability to set a precedent, to develop and educate all students, teachers, and families about the healthy indoor and outdoor environments and conserving our resources,” Landon adds. “When used as teaching tools themselves, it gives the students more opportunities for hands-on learning experiences.”

At School: Don’t Be Idle

Start them young on sustainability: That’s the lesson of, and at, Shalom Montessori, a pre-school and school through grade 8, one of only four schools in Arizona certified green by the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) and the first in Scottsdale.

Shalom is the only green Jewish Montessori school in the world, explains Dr. Sarette Zecharia, founder, director and teacher.

For ADEQ’s Environmentally Healthy Schools program, the 10-year-old school met many requirements to gain this certification last year. These include using the ADEQ-sponsored Air Quality Flag Program, maintaining a chemical-free environment, creating an idle-reduction zone, addressing chemical management and eco-cleaning, and growing
organic foods.

“We have a nurturing, warm environment focusing on creating responsible accountable leaders, and we treat each child as family,” adds Zecharia, a holistic psychologist.

In Tucson, the McCorkle Academy attained LEED Gold in 2013, just a year after its completion by Sundt Construction, Tucson, as designed by Swaim Associates Architects, also of Tucson.

The campus has incorporated many green features, including a 20,000-gallon water harvesting tank, solar water heaters, solar panels generating 10 percent of the required power, daylighting features and lighting controls, energy-efficient HVAC, recycling program during construction and the use of recycled materials, and alternative-fuel buses, explains Marcus E. Jones, R.A., for the school district’s Architecture & Engineering department. Dannie Adams was TUSD’s project manager.

“McCorkle Academy not only provides the space in which to learn, it is designed in a manner intended to help the students learn by the green features and the very environment it creates,” Jones says. “The school also sets an example and reminder for the community about the guardianship we and our institutions need to provide.”

Energy in the Classroom

Marcos de Niza participates in Tempe Union High School District’s Innovative Energy Solutions and Sustainability Project, an alliance with Chevron Energy Solutions (CES). This initiative targets energy reduction and lower maintenance costs, improving the learning environment by encouraging energy awareness and understanding the impact of behavior-based conservation.

A comprehensive energy audit of district wide facilities began the project. Then, the seven high schools and the district office upgraded lighting, HVAC and air handling systems, building automation and controls systems; implemented a CES owned Utility Vision program that benchmarks Tempe Union’s utility usage; installed window tinting; and established other energy conservation measures, explains Jessica Hauer, the district’s internal energy coach.

“Unique to this partnership is the development of a cross-curricular sustainability and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) program designed to provide students with inquiry-based learning tools that address today’s energy and environmental issues,” says Hauer, who leads the facilitation of the program with Tempe Union staff and graduate students from Arizona State University’s Sustainable Science for Sustainable Schools program.

Since January 2012, when the program began, Marcos de Niza has achieved a savings of $403,853, or 34.9 percent of its electrical consumption, she reports.

“TUHSD discovered several years ago that studying sustainability and energy education offered an extraordinary opportunity for learning, career preparation and citizenship for our students,” says Greg Wyman, associate superintendent at Tempe Union High School District.


Prescott College 2 Timmerman Photography


Platinum Certification at Prescott College

The Village at Prescott College is a new 104-bed townhouse-style three-story campus housing facility awarded LEED Platinum Certification by the US Green Building Council. The solar-powered facility was designed by Weddle Gilmore Architects, Phoenix, and construction was completed in 2012 by Haley Construction, Prescott.

The building includes two staff and 13 student units, the latter primarily for incoming students. Quest Energy Group, Tempe, provided facility energy modeling services for the college, well known since its founding in the 1960s for its commitment to environmental responsibility and social justice.

After one year of monitoring energy performance, the building is net zero for electricity use in heating, cooling, lighting and plug loads, not including hot water heating, says James Pittman, director of sustainability and member of the Village Design Team for the college. Net zero refers to a building’s producing at least as much energy as it consumes on an annual basis.

The solar photovoltaic system is a 95 kW grid-tied system with a projected electricity generation rate of 139,616 kWh per year, he explains. Year to year, February 2013 to February 2014, the building exceeded that estimate by 7 percent, and also generated more than the facility consumed, with the system producing 149,483 kWh, he adds.

Other strategies include passive solar design; recycling 550 tons of construction site materials; rainwater re-use through swales and cisterns; and the installation of low-flow faucets, toilets and showers, as well as the use of more than 50-percent FSC-certified wood.

“The Village is an excellent model of our sustainability values, a great experiential learning opportunity for students and a milestone in our half-century of dedication to environmental responsibility and social justice,” says Pittman.

“We focus on green schools for four reasons,” says Lisa Clifton, LEED Green Associate, environmental engineer and vice chairwoman of the USGBC Arizona Green Schools Committee.

“For one, in this time of tight budgets, dollars saved from reducing energy and water use translate directly into dollars that can be used in the classroom; two, absenteeism is reduced and students learn better in a healthy school; three, environmental education enhances STEM education efforts; and, finally, schools serve as community centers, and are a great way to introduce the benefits of sustainability to a broader audience.”


Mary Belle McCorkle Academy of Excellence K-8, photo courtesy of Tucson Unified School District
Prescott College, photo by Timmerman Photography



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