When Ashland High School students enter their new building next January, they'll be learning in an environment that is healthier, allows them to be more productive and dramatically decreases the school's energy costs. Solar panels, huge windows and skylights maximizing use of natural light, carpets and paint that are mold-resistant and emit fewer harmful vapors, improved stormwater management, and better air circulation are some of the innovative features builders are using as they construct the school. It's all part of a growing trend known as "green" building, construction that is better for the environment and people's health. The green trend has extended to many sites including Blackstone Valley Regional Vocational Technical High School in Upton, the William Stanley Elementary School in Waltham and the Alternatives Unlimited project at a Northbridge cotton mill. "It makes a lot of sense doing it naturally. You're saving the environment and saving a lot of energy," said Kevin Johnson, supervisor of school buildings and grounds in Ashland. Massachusetts is one of about a half-dozen states strongly pushing the green building ethic, said Rob Pratt, director of the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative's Renewable Energy Trust. Building green adds 2 percent to 4 percent to construction costs, but saves money in the long run by lowering energy bills, Pratt said. And with more and more buildings going green, Pratt said he expects that in about five years initial costs will be the same as in buildings without the green improvements.
"The life cycle costs are wonderful," Pratt said. "You pay for the additional premiums in the early years of the school, and it just keeps providing benefits." State officials have provided towns like Ashland an additional 2 percent reimbursement in school building costs when they use green design, and are now targeting affordable housing as the next frontier for the environmentally friendly mode of construction. Massachusetts will use $209 million in incentives to encourage developers to build about 1,000 green units, half of them affordable, under a program announced this month by MassHousing, the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and the Enterprise Foundation of Maryland.
"I think it's a great idea," said Karen Weiner, director of special projects at the Citizens Housing and Planning Association. "Obviously, the more we can do to make housing affordable and also protect the environment, it's a win-win for everyone." The incentives for developers include $125 million in mortgage financing, $75 million in private equity and $9 million in grants and loans. They're open to builders throughout the state, but program officials expect the green apartment buildings will be built primarily east of Interstate 495.
MassHousing has begun outreach to pique developers' interest in the incentives. "We're going to make it as easy as possible for them," said Eric Gedstad, the agency's spokesman. About 5 percent to 10 percent of new apartments and homes are being built with green design principles, but that number should increase in coming years, Pratt said. Building green entails a lot more than slapping a few solar panels on the roof. Many green builders apply for the voluntary LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, which involves energy efficiency, recycling, use of non-toxic paints and upholstery, bicycle racks and siting near public transportation, Pratt said. All new federal buildings and many new Boston structures are applying for LEED status, he said. Statewide, the number of LEED applications increased from 87 in November 2003 to 183 a year later, he said. And Massachusetts has 18 green schools already built or under construction. The green and LEED-certified buildings improve health and productivity of their occupants by combining materials that are low in volatile organic compounds with HVAC systems that adjust air circulation based on the number of people in a room, green building advocates said. "These are really nice places to be. When you have good ventilation, people don't get sleepy and tired after lunch," Pratt said. Studies have shown that "students actually do better on tests in green schools," he added. Employers discovered several years ago that productivity increased in buildings designed with green principles, said architect Joseph da Silva, who designed the new Ashland High School. "By creating productive environments, you can increase productivity 10, 20 percent, and that became the driving force behind doing green buildings," he said. There are several examples of green building in MetroWest. A renovation and expansion at the Blackstone Valley Tech school will allow the district to reduce annual energy costs by $160,000 while exceeding the state's energy code requirements by more than 40 percent, said Kim Cullinane, a project manager at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, which gave Blackstone design and construction funding. In Northbridge, Alternatives Unlimited Inc., a nonprofit, is retrofitting the Whitin Cotton Mill with solar panels, geothermal wells and hydro-electric generators in a project expected to reduce the company's electric bills by 60 percent.
And in Ashland, construction on the new high school is in full swing. Johnson, the building and grounds supervisor, toured the school construction site with a reporter last week to display some of the school's many "green" features. The site will have a stormwater system that collects water and lets it seep back into the ground. Walking trails and wetlands are also on the property, Johnson said. But the most noticeable green aspect is the windows. The building has three skylights in the cafeteria, main hallway and the library, as well as large windows throughout the building and an extra row of windows at the top of the school, all designed to bring in more sunlight. Lights in the school will automatically dim and brighten to adjust to the amount of daylight flooding in through windows, Johnson said. The school will be 27 percent more efficient than required under building codes and is expected to save $77,000 in annual energy costs. Because the school will meet high efficiency standards, Ashland received nearly $400,000 in rebates from utility companies for infrastructure costs, da Silva said. In case anyone is skeptical about the energy savings at the new Ashland High School, the building will have a kiosk that allows the public to monitor its energy use, Johnson said. The station will also help kids learn about energy efficiency. "They plan on using it as a teaching tool," Johnson said.
Jon Brodkin, 508-626-4424, email@example.com Daily News Tribune www.dailynewstribune.com http://www.dailynewstribune.com/localRegional/view.bg?articleid=58897