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Education goes green
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Individuals can save energy and benefit the environment by driving hybrid cars, bathing under low-flow showerheads and lighting their homes with compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Now educational institutions in Newton County have started considering how to employ energy efficient equipment and sustain the area's natural resources.

Both Oxford College of Emory University and the Newton County School System have created or are discussing new initiatives designed to take into account humanity's impact on the environment.

Oxford College

Emory University system administrators have developed a number of eco-friendly initiatives, which Oxford College officials are beginning to implement.

The first is the construction of the first building in Newton County - a residence hall - certified by the U.S. Green Building Council in the Leadership in Environmental Engineering and Design program.

"The project at Oxford has been under development for a couple of years," said Emory University Associate Architect Todd Dolson, "and the university as a whole has implemented a policy that all new capital projects must be LEED-certified on the silver level."

The certification process looks at six different categories and awards points for building aspects such as providing preferred parking for alternative transportation, water-use reduction, optimizing energy performance, using low-emitting materials and paint and innovations in design.

Total points for each criterion can reach a maximum of 69 points. Dolson said to reach the silver level, 35 points had to be obtained after application and approval by a Green Building Council accredited professional.

Requirements for any LEED-certified building include erosion and sedimentation control elements, fundamental building systems commissioning, minimum energy performance, CFC reduction in HVAC equipment, storage and collection of recyclables, minimum indoor air quality performance and environmental tobacco smoke control.

Dolson said innovation in wastewater technologies and not relying on potable water for irrigation would earn the new residence hall several LEED points.

"One of the most interesting things about our particular project probably has to do with storm water," Dolson said. "Whenever it rains, we are collecting all the runoff from the roofs and storing it in an underwater cistern."

 The runoff collected would then be used to water the landscaping around the building instead of using the city's water supply.

Landscape Architect Jay Wansley of ECOS Environmental Design said the cistern would have the capacity to store 17 days worth of water or 30,000 gallons.

Dolson said many students and faculty members wanted the new residence hall to look very futuristic, but that university officials decided on a different method.

"We actually take the approach that we really don't want you to know that it's an eco-friendly building," Dolson said.

He said the college will conduct tours of the building and post signs and graphics around it to inform those interested about how its power and water systems operate more efficiently than other buildings on campus.

"We're an educational institution and we want our students to understand the world they are living in and will be living in," said Oxford's Dean for Campus Life Joe Moon.

Dolson estimated the new silver-level building would cost .5 to 1 percent more to build than a non-certified building, but lowered energy costs would pay for the increased building costs within five years.

Dolson said the residence hall is scheduled to open in the fall of 2008 and house half of the campus's 700 students.

He said the university system has already registered five buildings with the Green Building Council, has six buildings in the approval process and has 11 buildings in the design process - one striving for gold level status. Upon completion of these projects the university will have created 2.2 million square feet of sustainable space.

"I suspect it's a little bit of practice what you preach," Dolson said of Emory's reasoning for sustainability initiatives. "Emory is trying to be a world player in health and a number of other scientific areas, and here we can empirically show the world that we care about future generations."

A second "green" initiative stems from Oxford's Institute for Environmental Education - a 10-day seminar for K-12 teachers to learn the basics of ecology, how to apply what they learn into their lessons and how to utilize school grounds for environmental education.

Started in 1992 and taught by biology department faculty Steve Baker, Eloise Carter and Theodosia Wade, the program accepts 21 applicants from Georgia and Florida.

Mostly funded by organizations such as the Arthur Vinings Davis Foundation, the Chevron Foundation and the Georgia Power Foundation, Baker explained the institute was created when Bill Allgood left his estate to the college for the purpose of science education.

Co-directors Baker, Carter and Wade then decided to teach instructors. Since 1992, more than 200 teachers have gone through the program - reaching thousands of younger students.

"We felt like we could teach a teacher," Baker said, "but we weren't sure we could teach a kindergartner."

Baker said field investigations take them to locations such as Dried Indian Creek to conduct experiments.

The teachers have to create a lesson plan which they share with the other program participants. After the 10 days all have 21 potential investigations to do with their classes.

A few Newton County teachers are participating this year. Jim Stansell, science teacher at Newton High School, said out of his 27 years teaching that Oxford's program was the best instructional institution he had attended.

"Since I've never taught environmental science before, I thought it would be a great opportunity to learn environmental science," Stansell said.

He plans to take his classes to the Yellow River, which runs through the high school's property, to test whether the river is polluted.

Stansell's students will check the water for oxygen and pH levels as well as for the presence of macro-organisms such as clams, flies and mites.

Jamie Gammell physical science teacher at Clements Middle School said after participating in the program she will incorporate more hands-on activities demonstrating the scientific process of hypothesizing, experimenting and drawing conclusions.

"I love the idea of being able to go outside," Gammel said. "Kids love to get out of the classroom."

Gammel said she will have her students test and compare the levels of carbon dioxide in the air, from exhaling and from a car exhaust. They will also simulate the earth's atmosphere by placing a thermometer in a jar and comparing it to a thermometer left out in the open to see if it affects temperature.

"It's important to make kids aware of their personal impact on the environment," Gammel said.

Baker said new initiatives, including a campaign to reach a broader area by developing recruiting incentives and creating a new Web site, will help the program continue to grow and allow teachers all over the world to explore schoolyard ecology.

"We're really trying to do our part to improve science education," Baker said.

A third initiative at Oxford involves forest restoration. Erik Oliver, Oxford's special assistant to the dean for strategic initiatives, leads faculty and student groups in invasive plant removal in 15 acres of woods west of campus.

During the spring semester he and various others removed species such as privet, kudzu and English ivy, which have smothered many wooded areas in the South East.

"These are rapidly taking over the forest and preventing native species from thriving there," Oliver said.

Oliver uses weed wrenches, or giant levers, to pull the plants from the ground.

"The process is very slow," Oliver said. "It's a lot like weight loss when it comes to invasive plant species - there's really no fast way around it."

He said former Oxford biology professor, Curry Haynes, inspired him by establishing the college's first multi-use trail and personally maintaining it until his eighties.

Haynes has since passed away but Oliver said he wanted to continue his devotion to nature, especially since he walked those same forests as a child growing up in Oxford.

"Personally I have a great love of forests," Oliver said, "and wanted to see them back in their original glory."

Newton County schools

Newton County School Associate Superintendent for Business and Administration Deborah Robertson spoke with the board of education on June 12 about one of the key objectives for improving the system's maintenance and operations department.

Robertson said the system would like to incorporate a "green cleaning" program and has asked Maintenance Director Bill Rosser, Custodial Supervisor Charles Smith and Purchasing Coordinator Mike Barr to meet with vendors about products and services available in the custodial supply market that can affordably maintain clean and healthy facilities without harming the environment with harsh or ozone-depleting chemicals.

Rosser also said the system has scheduled a $4 million renovation to Newton High School which involves rewiring, relighting and replacement of ceiling tile due to the 2000 Federal Fluorescent Ballast Rule - designed to help preserve natural resources which are burnt to provide electricity.

According to the rule, magnetic ballast (a device limiting the amount of current flowing in an electric circuit) light bulbs will no longer be manufactured after April 2010, so older buildings will have to be rewired to support electronic ballast bulbs.

"They use a fraction of the energy that the old magnetic ballasts use," Rosser said.

Chris Smith, president of Newton Electric Supply, explained how the electronic ballasts save money.

"Magnetic ballasts burn hotter in the fixture than electronic ballasts," Smith said, "and so with the electronic, the air won't run as much."

In addition to saving on air conditioning costs, the bulbs will save on overall power costs because they put out the same amount of lumens (perceived power of light) at 32 instead of 34 watts.

"It seems like a small difference," Smith said, "but with thousands of fixtures, it quickly adds up."

Robertson anticipates rewiring at Newton High in the summer of 2008. She said Newton High is a priority since it is the largest such project, but other schools will need electronic ballast lighting replacement also.

"It's definitely the wave of the future," Rosser said.