By Theresa Mioli    

For a lesson in energy efficiency and sustainability, teacher Julie Clark needs only to walk her fourth grade students through the halls of Ridgeview Elementary School in the Keller.  This semester, Ridgeview, part of the Keller Independent School District, joined numerous new and renovated schools around the North Texas area that were designed to be more energy-efficient and sustainable.
Every few days, Clark said that she and her students monitor a garden plot outside their classroom where they’ve planted corn, squash and pumpkins. They talk about how the weather and drainage are affecting growth.Clark points out the new building’s solar panels for a lesson plan on renewable energy.   (Ridgeview Elementary School Solar Panels Photo VLK Architects )

 When a certain amount of sunlight shines into Clark’s classroom, she said the overhead lights closest to the windows automatically turn off. Windows and skylights limit the amount of artificial light needed in the hallways.   “I’ve taught in schools built in the 50s and I’ve taught in schools built this year. For the kids having that natural light and just the openness and just the lightness of it, I really see a difference in the kids because I think they feel a little bit more free to do kind of out of the box things,” said Clark. “And it kind of has acalming effect on them and just contributes to a very
positive, happy atmosphere in the school.” 
( Ridgeview Elementary School Class Room
Photo VLK Architects )

In addition to the sustainability measures described by Clark, construction at Ridgeview maintained natural site grades and cafeteria recycling stations provide compost for the student gardens, said Kristen Allbritton, marketing coordinator for VLK Architects, which worked on the school.
Ridgeview has registered with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, which was developed by the nonprofit organization U.S. Green Building Council.  The LEED Rating System “provides building owners and operators with a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions,” according to the USGBC website.  ( Ridgeview Elementary School Hallway Photo VLK Architects )
Karen Benson, chair of the green schools committee for the USGBC - North Texas, said she has seen a trend of more North Texas school districts building green schools.  “The perception is, ‘Oh, I can’t do green. It’s too expensive. That’s for those rich school districts,’ kind of thing. But actually, building green saves a lot of money. It also reduces absenteeism and raises test scores and all sorts of great benefits. So if they find out all the advantages, then they definitely want to build green,” said Benson.   Benson said that two big reasons she believes it’s important to invest in green schools are improved indoor air quality and reduction in utility costs.
This year the Irving Independent School District opened the “largest net-zero middle school in the nation,” meaning the school produces enough energy to offset its consumption, according to the district’s website.  Lady Bird Johnson Middle School uses solar panels, wind turbines, a rain water harvesting irrigation system and geothermal technology for heating and air conditioning, according to a news release from IISD. (Solar Panels at Lady Bird Johnson Middle School    Graphic Corgan Architects )
Some school districts are also addressing sustainability demands by turning to the Collaborative for High Performing Schools, a nonprofit founded in California that now has a presence in a dozen states.  High performance schools, as determined by CHPS, are designed, constructed and operated to be energy and resource efficient, according to
“What we do is to bring basically tools and resources that can be used by schools to build better, healthier learning environments, save natural resources and reduce the operating expenses and also reduce basically the environmental impact of schools,” said CHPS executive director Bill Orr.

As part of its 2007 Capital Improvement Program, the Fort Worth Independent School District is building five schools that adhere to Texas CHPS criteria.  The Dallas Independent School District also completed four high performance-designed schools for the start of the 2011-2012 school year as part of its 2008 Dallas ISD Bond Program.   “I believe that school districts are building high performance schools because it is all about the kids -- making a learning environment that is healthy and helps them learn which ensures success,” said Orr.


Teresa Mioli is a freelance journalist living in the DFW area. She previously wrote for the Beaumont Enterprise where she covered everything from breaking news to life and entertainment. She was State, Enterprise and General Assignment reporter for the Daily Texan at the University of Texas at Austin where she received a Bachelor of Journalism and a Bachelor of Art (Plan II).