ELPS Board Considers Sustainability and Energy Efficiency for New Buildings

Tuesday, September 12, 2017, 8:29 am
Karessa Wheeler

Architects and engineers from the Holland firm GMB Architects gave a brief update to the East Lansing Board of Education Monday night on the ways in which it hopes to make the five new elementary schools energy efficient, sustainable and environmentally friendly.

While the planning of all five schools is still in the very early stages, architect Jeff Hoag assured the Board that they are serious about making all the facilities as efficient as possible.

“Our thought was though we are relatively early in the process, we want to talk about how we approach topics of sustainability and energy efficiency,” he told the board. “It is really just a series of choices and decisions that in the end, we will fit together.”

Above, from left, GMB Architect team Paul Hector, Bethany Beckman, Trent DeBoer and Jeff Hoag present information on energy efficiency in schools as Trustee Nichole Martin listens.

Mechanical engineer Trent DeBoer, also of GMB, said he takes a “holistic approach” to determine the best way to make a sustainable building, considering both what the building is doing to the environment and how it is serving its population.

All renewable forms of energy generation are on the table at this point, DeBoer said, including solar power, wind power and geothermal or ground pump heat power.

Electrical engineer Paul Hector said that they are increasing the efficiency of all the buildings, not just the new ones. “Red Cedar is on a good trajectory as well,” he said.

Hoag discussed how “siting” the building can make a big difference in how energy is used and absorbed. If it faces the north, a building can take advantage of light without heat. A south-facing building offers challenges of heat and glare, but those can be accommodated. The architects are studying the views at the sites and how the sun hits the buildings to determine the most efficient position for each new school. They are also considering environmental issues such as stormwater management and runoff.

Some school systems like to view a building’s energy production as more than just a part of the brick and mortar but as part of the students’ instruction. “The building can be a learning tool. Something as simple as building the stormwater management in a way kids can learn from it,” Hoag said. “One school put in a turbine not so much to produce energy but to allow the kids teaching and learning opportunities.”

All the speakers emphasized that they would make sure the buildings were constructed “equitably” with as much thought and quality of construction in the first as in the last.

Board members asked the group about making sure entrances were all accessible and whether they were incorporating a desire for children to bike to school. Hoag assured them that they were looking at all the different ways people travel to school and taking them into consideration, and are involving a Safe Routes to School advocate in the process.

Superintendent Dori Leyko also updated the Board on the administration’s progress toward renovation and construction of new elementary schools following the voters’ approval of a millage request this spring. Leyko said renovations to the currently closed Red Cedar Elementary School will begin in February and include updates to the bathrooms, kitchen and offices, replacing portions of the roof, windows, siding and doors as well as upgrading the fire protection system, the electric and heating/air conditioning systems. Playground equipment will be both relocated and supplemented, and changes will be made to the bus loop, she said.

Later this week, Leyko hopes to announce a date for a forum on the renovations for Red Cedar that will “allow community members to give input and receive feedback.” The renovations are expected to be complete in time for the current population of Glencairn Elementary to move into the facilities for fall 2018.

In 2018-19, the District will construct new schools at Glencairn and Donley elementary schools sites. The population of Donley will remain in its current building during the construction project but the lack of land at Glencairn means the current building must be demolished before the new one can be constructed.

In other action:

  • Trustee Erin Graham asked that the Board draft a policy that would put into effect a resolution they passed Feb. 6 to ensure that students are welcome at East Lansing schools regardless of immigration status. The Board had passed the “safe and supportive schools” resolution stating that students have the right to a safe access to education regardless of immigration status but Graham believes that movements by the federal government to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals could harm East Lansing students.

Graham said she has not found anyone in the EL system who is currently under DACA and would be affected, but she wants the Board to make a policy that requires Immigration and Customs Enforcement to go through the superintendent’s office with all inquiries regarding students’ status.

Trustee Yasmina Bouraouri said the proposed policy has gone through the Board’s policy committee, but they are waiting on for the District’s legal counsel to meet with them over language in the policy.

  • Trustee Nichole Martin asked the Board for clarification of the role of the Mental Health Advisory Board. She said she was told that the committee, formed in October of 2016, had to have “the full support of the Board” to proceed with its activities. Since forming, the members have reviewed the District’s current policies regarding the social and emotional wellbeing of its students and would like to offer some recommendations to the Board. Specifically, the group of mental health professionals, educators, community members and high school students want to inform the Board of opportunities for staff development in the areas of suicide prevention and crisis response.

It is unclear who is supposed to set the agenda and goals for that committee – the ELPS School Board or the Superintendent, Martin said. Superintendent Leyko suggested that the committee will meet with Leyko and “determine some goals and actions collectively,” Leyko said.