Elementary serves as Florida county's 'green' model

The future of Orange County, Florida, school campuses can be found in the rural area of Zellwood.

District leaders point to Zellwood Elementary, which serves less than 700 students in a rich farming history, as an example of the type of eco-friendly campus they’d like to build more of, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

The school has a reflective white roof to help cut electricity costs and shield students and staff from Florida’s heat. Solar panels power the systems that heat water for the kitchen. Sensors automatically turn off lights when nobody is in the room.

Since the campus was rebuilt five years ago, the district has replicated many of the features in other new schools, said Lauren Roth, a spokeswoman for the district. The district says its schools have received $2 million in utilities rebates as a result, including $115,354 for Zellwood.

Students and staff have embraced the “green” image, with a dedicated group of 20 students that meets twice a week before classes start to run the school’s recycling program and dream up ad campaigns that encourage parents not to leave their cars idling in the parking lot.

Rather than focusing on expensive initiatives such as powering entire campuses by solar panels, district leaders say they’ve focused on “low-hanging fruit” — inexpensive features that easily can be incorporated on school campuses.

Zellwood was chosen as a model for Orange’s “green” schools after the campus was selected for a grant of about $40,000 from the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council. The cost of adding these features at Zellwood was minimal, according to the district.

Along with the Colonial High School Ninth-grade Center, Zellwood is among two public schools in the county that are LEED certified, a designation that indicates electricity cost savings, lower carbon emissions and healthier environments.

Trinity Prep Middle School in Winter Park, a private school, and Midway Elementary in Sanford also have that designation, according to the U.S. Green Building Council’s website.

Zellwood uses a thermal energy storage system to store ice created by chillers run at night, when electricity is less expensive, allowing the chillers to run less during the day. Six other Orange schools now have similar systems, Roth said.

Environmental advocates have pushed for buildings to produce “zero net energy,” which means their total energy consumption is counteracted by generating renewable energy each year. A few schools nationally have done it, but Orange County estimates the changes to the school design would add $3 million to the cost of building a school like Zellwood and it would take years to recoup those dollars through energy savings.

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