Northside opens first official "Green" School

July 23, 2010

When Martin Elementary School opens next month, it will claim at least two firsts. Martin will become the first NISD elementary school to be built inside Loop 410 since 1980 and it also will be the first officially "Green" Northside school.

Construction of the Northside school followed a strict protocol established by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. The LEED rating system was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C.

"In order to earn a LEED certification, everything about the school must be environmentally friendly, from the recycling of materials during the construction to the energy efficiency of the building once it's finished," says Vernon Dunagin, Assistant Superintendent for Facilities and Operations. "Northside ISD is committed to protecting the environment and our natural resources," he adds.

"This is so exciting," says Evelyn Cobarruvias, the school's newly appointed principal. "We have the opportunity to make a big impact on how children view their world and how they can be responsible citizens and users of the world's energy. Our teachers will also be provided lots of information that they can weave into their lesson plans so that "green" is not just a color at Martin Elementary; it becomes the way we live," she says.

Martin will open with 558 students and around 75 teachers and staff. It relieves student overcrowding at Villarreal, Linton and Powell elementary schools. Martin was built with funds from the voter-approved School Bond2007.

The District will apply for LEED silver certification once the construction of Martin Elementary is completed. Once the application is submitted, it could take weeks to months before the District is notified.

"It's a very extensive process," said Leroy San Miguel, Executive Director of Construction and Engineering, who meets with staff, builders, and architects every two weeks to document progress on the LEED requirements.

Construction of Martin Elementary will cost $19.3 million, which includes about $200,000 to cover the costs of applying for and meeting LEED certification. Eventually, that additional cost will be offset by savings on utility bills. Alamo Architects, which has worked on other LEED certified projects, is the architect for Martin Elementary.

"It is not a huge leap for the District to build a green school," Dunagin said. "Most of the NISD's schools that have opened in the last 10 years come very close to meeting the requirements for LEED certification."

Some of the main "Green' features of Martin Elementary include:

  • Concrete paving in lieu of asphalt to reduce the "heat island effect" (absorb heat and re-radiate)
  • Exterior shade devices over windows on west and south facing windows to assist in reducing heat gain (reduced A/C and lighting into classrooms)
  • Learning garden for the children to learn about renewable resources and environment
  • Lighting sensors in classrooms and selected rooms to turn off lights when not in use - reduce energy
  • Parking spaces for car pooling and low emission vehicles - helps environment
  • Local and native grass and landscaping in selected areas which requires less water and reduces irrigation needs
  • Construction waste collected and sent to recycle landfill - approximately 90 percent collected
  • Special effort taken to ensure building materials were sourced regionally - reduce energy of transport and help sustain local markets
  • High efficiency lighting strategies - reduce fixture wattage
  • Large amount of natural day lighting - enhances learning environment
  • Energy efficient plumbing fixtures such as low-flow fixtures, dual flush toilets - help reduce indoor water use

Northside made a commitment years ago to protect the environment and has established numerous environmentally-friendly practices. "Northside ISD was green long before it was the trend," NISD Superintendent John Folks said.

Back in the 1980s, NISD started converting diesel-fueled school buses to propane, and almost 20 years ago, the District established an extensive energy management program that saves about $1 million a year in electricity and water utility fees.

More recently, the District's massive solar panel project at the Northside Aquatics Center was awarded the first Bill Sinkin Solar Energy Award from the city of San Antonio.

"Building a LEED ‘Green' school is a responsibility," Folks said. "We as educators should be at the forefront of teaching students how to take care of our planet. We are doing our small part here in NISD."

In addition to Martin Elementary, NISD is opening four more new schools this summer. They are Brennan High School, Briscoe Middle School, Henderson Elementary School, and Behlau Elementary School.