HISD continues attempts to green district

As of April 1, Berry Elementary School became the latest campus of the Houston Independent School District to attain coveted LEED silver status for the environmentally friendly features in the school, which was reconstructed using $14.9 million from the district’s 2007 bond issue.

Berry, which opened in 2011, is a magnet school for focusing on an environmental studies curriculum.

“I am proud to be part of a cutting-edge green school that not only exemplifies best practices in sustainable design but is teaching our students to be environmentally conscious,” Berry Elementary Principal Ali Oliver said in an April 1 district press release.

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a sequence of standards has been put together by the U.S. Green Building Council, a consortium of businesses and advocates pushing for stronger environmental building standards.

Currently, seven schools in HISD have achieved at least a LEED silver rating, while 17 overall have achieved some level of LEED certification under either its 2007 or 2009 standards. Eight more schools that have been renovated or reconstructed under the 2007 bond initiative are awaiting final certification.

The highest profile building is Carnegie Vanguard High School, one of HISD’s showcase schools, which enrolls 600 gifted and talented students in the district. CVHS is awaiting final certification for its building, which redeveloped an urban brownfield and was strategically located to improve access to public transit.

As the district shifts into planning mode to renovate and reconstruct dozens of schools among HISD’s nearly 281 campuses using monies from the $1.9 billion 2012 bond issue, officials are looking to greatly expand the number of campuses with LEED certification. If all 40 schools detailed in the issue are rebuilt to LEED standards, nearly a quarter of the schools in the district will be LEED certified.

Notable campuses due for reconstruction are Bellaire and Lamar high schools, which last received major renovations in the late 1980s, as well as the DeBakey High School for Health Professions.

The USGBC certifies buildings for LEED based on a number of criteria it has refined over the years. Those criteria include the building site, water efficiency, energy use and atmosphere, the materials and resources used in construction, the indoor environmental quality and the innovation and design of the building.  Points accrued translate into certification levels. The lowest level is a simple certification, with certifications ascending through silver, gold and platinum.

Some sources, notably an investigative series in USA Today, has criticized the LEED standards as adding cost to construction without the promised environmental payoff, noting that several Houston schools had not met energy usage reductions promised by LEED, nor had test scores improved in LEED buildings vs. non-LEED buildings. However, HISD officials suggested in response that they are addressing problems that have arisen through more diligent maintenance of facilities.

The USGBC has stridently rejected the series, suggesting that the paper cherry-picked data that made the program look bad.

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