Schools need a director of sustainability

The Cleveland Heights University Heights Board of Education has begun planning the next 50 years of school and administrative buildings programs. It is anticipated that a number of existing buildings will be closed, renovated, rebuilt, or replaced at a cost likely to run into several tens of millions of dollars. The process has already begun, and is gaining momentum. I worry lest "sustainability" become just a fashionable buzzword to which everyone pays lip service, but for which no one person is actually responsible or accountable. While sustainability has been identified as a key concern, no one individual has been given responsibility as a director of sustainability.

There is currently no such position, one will have to be created. Anyone qualified for this job will easily produce annual savings far in excess of salary, benefits and other costs. I believe we have an ample local talent pool. We need a community resident who is already attuned to our particular values, who is already knowledgeable about sustainability, and who is already familiar with the details of the District’s daily operations. Such a person can be effective from day one.

Meanwhile, please consider these possible avenues for further involvement:

  • Attend the next scheduled school facilities planning meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 11, 6:30–8:30 p.m. in the Heights High Social Room.
  • Check out the Facilities Master Plan.
  • Contact your favorite school board member(s) to ask that she or he make certain that this process is handled properly in order to avoid painful and expensive missteps. E-mail the CHUH Board of Education

Here are some possible talking points:

  • All facilities project decisions should be made with a view toward reducing harmful environmental impacts from any demolition or deconstruction processes, and with consideration of both, immediate construction/renovation energy usage and impacts, as well as ongoing maintenance and operational energy/environmental costs.
  • The proposed 50-year timeline being considered as the targeted life expectancy for any new construction may be too short—2,000-year-old-Roman roads still carry heavy truck traffic daily.
  • The structural design and layout of our buildings should make it easier to re-use, re-purpose, recycle or compost an item than to landfill it.
  • Transportation alternatives, such as mass transit, walking and bicycling, should be fostered within the initial sitting and design. Faculty and staff should have access to necessary amenities for bike commuters at appropriate times of day.
  • Green roofs may be appropriate in some instances and will certainly reduce heating and cooling costs where adopted.
  • Wind spires, solar panels, and other active and passive solar and geo-thermal design elements should be examined and adopted where feasible, bearing in mind historical trends in energy costs.
  • No idling zones should be established immediately, extending at least 500 feet from every school entrance and exit.
  • Local resources, including residents, businesses and organizations, should be actively encouraged to engage with the District and contribute to its goals. These contributions may take many forms, such as tutoring, special activity study groups (art, science, poetry, drama, writing, math, etc) or even story-telling and oral history projects, community gardening, historical study, etc.
  • Any increases in impervious surface area should be offset via bioswales or other design elements. 
  • Natural solar lighting should be incorporated where feasible.
  • Both indoor and outdoor artificial lighting should be accomplished via LEDs or other low-energy consumption lights.

I have also started a conversation on this topic at Please feel free to join in, and I hope to see you at the Jan. 11 meeting at Heights High.

Sam Bell

Sam Bell is an Entrepreneurs for Sustainability “Champion of Sustainability.” He and his wife live in Cleveland Heights where they raised their two sons. Bell is the owner and chief technician at the Lusty Wrench, a local garage that pioneered the concept of “eco-conscious auto repair.”

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Volume 5, Issue 2, Posted 11:11 AM, 01.10.2012