Sustainable buildings will help teach our students

Figure 1: To understand this completely you need 'plumbing', 'electrical' and 'sheet metal' skills, along with 'mathematics', 'fluid dynamics', 'thermodynamics', 'heat transfer', 'materials science', 'metrology', 'electronics', 'control systems', and 'computer tech.' Even a K-5 student can learn the names of parts and watch moving parts as well as streamers in the air ducts and puzzle/imagine about how it all works. When they see it later in the middle and high schools, where depth of understanding  grows, they have a tangible context for the best comprehension and retention.

A living wage is harder and harder to come by for many young people. In personal conversations, numerous people conclude that present and future employment is most available in the technical trades and engineering. Consumers and voters need technical knowledge to make the best decisions possible in life. To give all our children hope and pride in their futures, we need to enable them with significant Career Technical Education (CTE) and Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education, along with the arts, language, social sciences and history. Hope is a key motivator for students.

At present, limited CTE exists at Heights High and not at all for the lower grades. STEM is weak throughout K–12 in the district. The district is trying some things to change that, but it remains too little. Sustainable refurbished buildings provide an opportunity to create the space and infrastructure, which costs so much that it has handicapped the district from providing better CTE and STEM to-date. We can get a lot more than bricks and mortar from the bond issue being voted on this November. We can make an education leap that many voters want.

The best K–12 building plans in the country use the building as a teaching tool. ["Advanced Energy Design Guide for K-12 School Buildings: Achieving 50% Energy Savings Toward a Net Zero Energy Building," American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Special Project 134, e.g. pgs. 191-192, 2011.<>  “A Building that Teaches”, High Performance Buildings, Winter 2013, pgs. 34-46. <>.] No other school district in our region has done this. We can make CH-UH schools valuable and unique, to attract more students and families.

Imagine plexiglass-covered cut-outs of wall and roof systems that expose how they were built and with what materials. A window into an air handler, as shown in Figure 1, provides K–12 lesson plan content. Asking students why a pipe or duct is some particular size or where and how much energy is coming and going in a sub-system, or the whole building, will draw on simple physical intuition about energy content, conservation of mass and energy, velocity, pressure, temperature, along with measurements and calculations required to give the answer. Teachers could introduce such questions in middle school or sooner, even if the answers will not be the most sophisticated. Parallel questions on electrical systems are: why was an electric motor or the gauge of a wire chosen, or how does a three-way wall switch work (a core concept for digital logic switches)? The actual design and construction documents provide experience with professional-grade drafting, material specifications, and calculations from simple arithmetic to differential equations. Individual room temperature, humidity, and air quality controls will inevitably use proportional-integral-differential (PID) controllers. Students can go through the tuning experience of a PID controller for their classroom and feel the consequences of integrals and differentials from calculus. Windows offer lessons in optical materials, reflection, transmission, absorption and emissivity in each of the UV, visible, and IR spectra.

Then there is all of outdoors, with water, soil and plant management spanning the skills from landscaping to botany, agronomy and civil engineering. There is a revolution going on in the technology of sustainable management from rain water and grey water reuse to no-mow lawns and compost-only soil fertilization. Urban agriculture spans gardening, food processing and marketing—all with an eye to better nutrition. With chickens in Cleveland Heights now (pets have been here forever), animal husbandry is a real opportunity.

The bottom line is that an investment in sustainable refurbished buildings in the district makes all of this possible without added capital costs. Nothing bold like this will happen otherwise.

I ask voters to support the bond levy and at the same time insist leaders use the buildings and grounds to teach CTE and STEM for the sake of our kids over a lifetime.

To get an idea of courses that the State of Ohio encourages, have a look at the “ODE EMIS Manual, Section 4.7: Subject Codes” <> . All courses are listed but see pages 35–68 for CTE possibilities. They are impressive.

Allen Wilkinson

Allen Wilkinson was a member of the Sustainability Working Group (SWG) of the Lay Facilities Committee (LFC) and is running for the CH-UH Board of Education.

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Volume 6, Issue 9, Posted 11:03 AM, 08.23.2013