“Green Bus Tour” Stops at Central Campus

Students became teachers Friday morning at Central Campus when they hosted representatives of the Iowa Chapter of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) on a Green Schools Bus Tour.

Last spring Central Campus was named the first Green Ribbon School in Iowa by the US Department of Education in recognition of its leadership in recycling and environmental education. Larry Beall heads the school’s Iowa Energy and Sustainability Academy (IESA) and he and his IESA protégé/ambassadors hosted the USGBC contingent on Friday.

They made a PowerPoint presentation in the multi-purpose room to give their guests some background on the remarkable district-wide energy efficiencies that have been achieved in recent years under the leadership of Bill Good, Chief of Operations for DMPS. Good’s title may as well be changed to Chief Energy Star, a status conferred by the US Environmental Protection Agency that’s been achieved by more than 50 of the district’s schools and counting under his coordination of a massive and ongoing renovations campaign.

Students like Ben Peterson of Roosevelt, Riley Dunlap and Elijah Young of Lincoln, and Jerson Valenzuela of North explained graph after graph of trend lines. Some were steeply inclined, like the one displaying the number of Energy Star schools from year to year since 2008. Others declined just as dramatically, like the one tracing the $2.4 million in energy cost savings achieved over the same period, even as the percentage of district classrooms equipped with air conditioning has steadily risen.

Then the USGBC delegation split into three groups to tour various departments within Central’s Career and Technical Education Academy to see the ways they all are integrated into the greening effort.

The culinary arts program grows its own herbs and other foodstuffs. The marine biology program grows its own coral. The auto mechanics and repair program recycles paint and parts. The graphic arts program uses soy ink and recycles t-shirts. The school’s broadcasting program produces PSAs about environmentalism and airs them over KDPS, their own radio station. And so on.

On Wednesdays the IESA students tour the 450,000 square foot premises, gathering recyclables at collection points throughout the building. Last year they amassed over 10 tons of paper and nearly 8,000 bottles and cans.

Post-tour everyone returned to the multi-purpose room for some Q&A. The first question asked by one of the visitors was, “Can adults come here to learn, too?” All of them came away impressed, including Pat Higby, Energy and Outreach Coordinator at the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa and Megan Romanelli, an interior designer at Pigott Interiors here in Des Moines. They were both interested in how Central Campus, originally built in the 1920s as a Ford Model T plant and later a WWII factory for Solar Aircraft, has been modified over the years into a cutting edge educational laboratory. One of the things they learned was how the original concrete floors have been restored and require no chemicals, only a wet mop, to clean and maintain.

But what most impressed the tourists were the IESA students and Beall’s program which allows them to earn up to 18 hours of college credit over a two-year curriculum that is project-based and textbook-free. Several of them remarked on how engaged their guides were. Beall told the group that when he first started IESA and attended a national environmental conference he was the only educator there. All of the other attendees were amazed at what he planned to implement at the high school level. Three years ago he started with 18 students. Last year there were 40. This year he has 60 and expects to approach 100 in 2013/14.

The PowerPoint included unsolicited testimonials from IESA alums now at Iowa State University and Evergreen College extolling the preparation they received in Beall’s program for the careers they’re now working towards in conservation and volunteering to come back and speak to his classes with the voice of their personal experiences.

The Energy Stars are shining bright at Central Campus. And they’re all green.

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