Tempe High working to go 'green’ - East Valley Tribune: News

Tempe High working to go 'green’

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Posted: Thursday, September 4, 2008 6:08 pm | Updated: 9:10 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Tempe High School sophomore Miriam Villanueva wants to see the computers in her school's labs turned off when they're not in use.

And she wants to see teachers using more scrap paper, instead of throwing it away.

Her classmate, Kailey Campbell, 15, wishes students could buy reusable drink containers instead of the Styrofoam cups that hold drinks in the cafeteria.

"When you buy a drink, it's a Styrofoam cup," Campbell said. "If all the students use a Styrofoam cup every day for every study ... that's a lot of paper cups."

Principal Mark Yslas has set his sights even higher. He's dreaming of air-conditioning units powered by natural gas or solar energy.

While no details are set in stone, one thing is certain, Yslas said: Tempe High is "going 'green.' "

As the country struggles with soaring energy costs and climate change, Yslas believes going green will not only save money and help the environment - it will also be a major benefit for high school students to prepare for them for the jobs of the future.

He's working with Southwest Gas Corp. to become the East Valley's first "green" school by focusing on conservation and by testing new energy-saving technologies.

The idea for going green started last year, said Assistant Principal Stacia Wilson, when the school applied for a state grant that focused on conservation. The school didn't get the grant - but after brainstorming about the topic, Yslas and the teachers involved wanted to focus on conservation anyway, which is when Yslas contacted Southwest Gas, Wilson said.

ENERGY COSTS FUEL CHANGE

Rising energy costs are prompting school districts across the nation to make changes in the way they do business.

A study conducted earlier this summer by the American Association of School Administrators found 59 percent of districts were implementing energy conservation measures, and 37 percent were working to cut heating and air-conditioning costs.

Some said they were even going further, installing energy-saving lighting, or converting to natural gas, and investigating alternative energy sources such as wind and solar.

"There's a lot of waste in schools, largely because at the school level, at the staff level, they don't see the bills. It's not on anyone's radar," said Merrilee Harrigan, vice president for education at the Alliance to Save Energy in Washington, D.C. "Teachers are trying to raise test scores, make sure students have books and are present in classes and making good grades. That's what they're focusing on. Energy is not generally a high priority in schools."

Yet energy has a bigger financial impact on the school than almost anything else, she said; it is generally the second-largest expense, after salaries.

Utility costs vary greatly based on the size of a building and the equipment it uses. The Tempe Union High School District spent $4.3 million in 2007-08. As two examples, utilities cost $685,000 at Tempe High School, and $707,500 at Mountain Pointe High School in Ahwatukee Foothills.

Schools can save between 5 percent and 15 percent on their electricity bills, Harrigan said, by doing things as simple as turning off the lights.

They can save even more when they switch to energy-saving appliances, she said.

During the next 10 years, Yslas hopes to do just that.

Southwest Gas will present the school with a menu of high-efficiency options to choose from as pieces of older equipment break down, said Dick Foreman, manager of public affairs and a former Tempe Union district school board member.

SWITCHING FUELS

One item Foreman and Yslas have talked about is demonstrating a heat pump that would use natural gas instead of electricity as the primary fuel to power air conditioning. It's one of the products available, Foreman said, that could have the biggest impact on lowering the school's utility bills.

"Those are some technologies that we're looking into, and we'd love to find a couple fits so the students and staff can demonstrate them," Foreman said. "Say we're able to secure the natural gas, they'll be going off grid for a huge amount of their energy demand. That's going to be a thing for people to come from all around and take a look at."

But to the teachers involved with the school's recently formed Go Green Committee, much of the excitement is over the ability to discuss these issues with students and have a chance to affect their futures.

Students in Gwen Reynolds' biology class, who are part of the school's program for students interested in health occupations, are spending one quarter of the school year focusing on going green. They have already brainstormed ways to spread an earth-friendly message to their classmates.

"We need to educate them on how little changes they can make in life can make a big difference. And how they should go beyond things they can't control and look at what they can control - how to make smart decisions at the grocery store, for example, like buying in bulk or reducing the amount of bags they use, then recycling them," said special-education teacher Jessica Hauer.

And Tara Ferguson, who teaches English-language learners at the school, said the group is excited to go beyond teaching and serve as an example.

"We're really looking to the future, beyond reusing and recycling to adding new technology into the building that can reduce energy," she said. "It's great for the students to see this as it pertains to so many global issues we talk about in class."

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