An ambitious plan to pool $100 million to retrofit schools in the six-county Sacramento region to save energy and water has won national acclaim.
The U.S. Green Building Council's Center for Green Schools announced Monday that the Sacramento region has made its Best of Green Schools list.
"The list recognizes school administrators and government leaders in 10 categories for efforts to create sustainable learning environments," said Burke Jensen, a spokesman for the organization.
The Sacramento region was selected for the list because of a proposal by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson to establish a joint powers authority of school districts and county governments in the six-county region.
The counties would invest bond money in a fund to finance school energy retrofit projects, instead of investing with banks, said Julia Burrows, who manages the program for the nonprofit Valley Vision. The entities would earn interest on the money and save money on energy costs, she said.
The joint powers authority would be part of the larger Greenwise initiative proposed by Johnson. "Greenwise has set a bold goal to make Sacramento the greenest region in the country and we believe green retrofits both inside and outside the classroom are the game changer in that equation," Johnson said.
The mayor announced his plan to retrofit schools during his State of the City address in January. He said the program would retrofit 15 million square feet of school facilities in the next decade.
Burrows said that work can begin after the joint powers authority begins loaning money next year. In the meantime, she is working to pique the interest of local school districts.
She said that all the major school districts in Sacramento Sacramento City Unified, Elk Grove Unified, Twin Rivers Unified, San Juan Unified and Natomas Unified have expressed an interest in taking part in the program.
Burrows calls Sacramento City Unified a model for other districts. It started Project Green last year with the idea of creating Green Teams at each school. The teams, made up of faculty, students and parents, audit energy use at their schools and offer recommendations to the district.
Superintendent Jonathan Raymond said the district also has retrofitted lighting systems and built a new sports complex that uses underground storage tanks to collect rainwater for irrigation, a track made from recycled Nike sneakers and fencing made from recycled iron and steel, among other things.
He said the district takes environmental stewardship so seriously it has changed the district logo from a red apple to a green apple.
"They are absolutely a model," said Burrows, who said district officials will be asked to share their ideas with other districts at biannual Green School Summits.
"One of the reasons we selected Sacramento was because of how closely the mayor's team is working with the school district," said Rachel Gutter, director of the Center for Green Schools. "That is not necessarily common."
Sacramento City Unified impressed Gutter and her colleagues enough to be awarded a three-year grant to pay for a full-time sustainability coordinator. The district was one of two selected from an application pool of 30. District officials hired Farah McDill, who holds a master's degree in sustainable building.
"We want to raise the green IQ in the region from curriculum to changing behavior turning off lights and other conservation efforts to deep facilities retrofits," Burrows said.
"Green schools are a win, win, win all the way across the job. It will create local jobs and save operating costs."