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Rob Cook (left), with State Architect David Thorman.

Green Schools Funding Waiting for Takers:
a Conversation with Rob Cook

by Barbara Crane

“Green schools don’t happen by accident,” says Rob Cook, executive officer of the California Office of Public School Construction (OPSC). “It all starts with how you envision your facility. If you’re trying to push energy saving features into the design at the back end, it’s too little and too late.”

In 2006, when voters passed Proposition 1D, a $10.4 billion statewide school bond measure, they also gave the nod to allocating $100 million of incentive grants for green, or high performance, K-12 schools (see related article). Much of this funding is still waiting for school districts to take advantage of it.

The State of California adopted criteria developed by the Coalition for High Performance Schools (CHPS) to allocate the high performance grants. The OPSC receives approximately 56 new construction and modernization funding applications a month plus additional applications for special programs, such as career technical and charter schools. Once a month the approved applications are sent to the State Allocation Board (SAB) for funding.

In June, 2008, for example, the SAB awarded nearly $412 million in construction grants to 109 schools throughout California. More than $219 million was allocated from Proposition 1D funds; the remainder came from earlier school bond measures. From January to June 2008, the SAB approved over $3.4 billion for school facilities projects. During the same period the board allocated over $10 million to projects for high performance schools.

The OPSC receives approximately three applications for green schools every month. Cook attributes the relatively few applications to a variety of factors, the primary one being a misapprehension among school district personnel that a high performance school will cost more to build than a conventional one. To the contrary, says Cook. "We’re finding that the grants are more than covering the incremental cost of meeting the CHPS criteria.”

What’s more, green schools make great economic sense over the long term. “It’s a win/win,” Cook says. “If implemented properly, you have very little additional cost to invest in your facility. You have a great return on your investment, and you reduce your operating costs for the life of the facility. Also, features such as daylighting and improved acoustics have great payoffs for the educational environment. In the current period of tight budgets, green schools make more sense than ever.”

Awareness of the benefits of green schools may be accelerated by the Green Building Code, adopted in July 2008 by the California Building Standards Commission. The standards cover commercial and residential construction, as well as schools, and address energy efficiency, water consumption, diversion of construction waste from landfills and use of environmentally sensitive materials in construction and design—categories similar to those covered by CHPS criteria.

“The high performance grants in Prop 1D will not yet be affected by the Green Building Code, since it becomes mandatory in 2010,” Cook says. “But the objective for the incentive grant is to encourage new and modernized facilities to exceed minimum requirements.  The enhanced building code will ensure that all schools are moving in the right direction.”

Cook sees the need to make school districts more aware of high performance incentive grants. He says, “David Thorman, the state architect, and I are looking forward to doing much more outreach.” Cook serves on the advisory board of the Green California Schools Summit, which will take place from December 8 to 10 in Anaheim, California.

“It’s very important that those who are responsible for building and modernizing schools know what’s possible,” he said. “I toured the vendor expo at the conference last year with seasoned facility people who were excited about the new approaches they saw. I look forward to the event this year as another opportunity to push the envelope a bit.

“Ten years ago there were only a few pioneers of green building out there,” Cook continues. “Now there’s a lot of momentum. The longevity of the positive impacts in terms of energy savings and benefits to children’s education is hard to comprehend. Prop 1D incentive grants provide the financing to make it happen. We just need to educate school boards, superintendents, and facilities managers to demand high performance school designs.” 




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