Log in Newsletter

Going for the Green | By Talia B. Higgs


Hey kids, what’s bright and quiet and green all over? New Century International Elementary isn’t just Cumberland County’s first “green” school, it’s setting a national standard for public buildings across the country. “The first thing you notice are all the windows,” says Kathy C. Miller, director of operations for Cumberland County Schools. And they do more than serve an aesthetic purpose; they are part of a strategic plan known as “daylighting.” Classrooms are brightened by sunlight pouring through the windows, decreasing the need for electric light. Rooms are also equipped with programmable thermostats and photometric and occupancy sensors so energy isn’t wasted. And then there are the features you can’t see: geothermal heat pumps that draw heat away during warm months and use heat from the earth during the winter. The heat from the ground can also potentially be used to provide hot water. “This is one of the few buildings in the United States that reduces energy in excess of 50 percent,” said Robbie Ferris of SFL+A Architects which designed the school. And when solar panels are added as planned the building will actually produce more energy than it consumes. But more than that, designers believe the building will change the way children learn. A school that uses natural light, quieter mechanical systems and gives teachers greater control over classroom temperature is sure to reduce absenteeism, Ferris said. “We believe it’s a high-performance building,” he said. “That doesn’t mean it just reduces energy, it also means a building that impacts test scores.” Construction of the revolutionary new school began more than a year ago with John S. Clark Company, LLC of Wilmington. With 44 classrooms, two of which are dedicated to pre-school students, and rooms for music and art classes, the school has the capacity for an estimated 900 students. Students, teachers and staff moved into the school this fall with Principal Felix Keyes at the helm. And to say they are excited about the new building might be an understatement. When Keyes first saw the building for himself, “I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” he said. “It’s such an open environment. The natural light, it helps kids to be able to focus better.” Every step of construction took sustainability into consideration. All of the materials, down to the countertops and tiles, feature a portion of recycled content. The light bulbs are not typical fluorescent bulbs one might expect but are rather T5 lighting. In the restrooms, metered faucets allow just enough time for students to wash their hands, and automatic hand dryers have been installed. This measure cuts down on the need for paper towels, thus reducing waste. Throughout the building, signs indicate recycling centers. These small hubs help to further reduce the amount of waste being sent to landfills and help teach students eco-responsibility at the same time. “We will be working heavily with this school on a green initiative teaching students to save energy, recycle and reduce consumption,” Miller said. The school campus also includes the new West Regional Branch of the Cumberland County Public Library system. “During the day, students will have access to the library,” Miller said. “In the evening (school doors) will be closed off to allow public access. The library will have a separate meter, so they pay for their own electricity.” The school isn’t just green on the inside it’s green on the outside, too. Landscaping is designed with energy in mind. From the solar panels on the roof to the geothermal pipes beneath the ground, this school is completely green from top to bottom.