Spotlight: Edison High School and Cleaner Energy

Kevin Reich, Ward 1, Minneapolis City Council

Kevin Reich, Ward 1, Minneapolis City Council

After Kevin Reich was elected to the Minneapolis City Council in 2009 for Ward 1 (Northeast), he noticed while walking his dog that there were four different lawn care services and four jurisdictions maintaining, in isolation, adjacent youth-oriented properties: Hennepin County Library, YMCA, Edison High School, and some open green park area.

He was also struck by the fact that while these areas had received improvements in infrastructure and public art, they had received little in terms of environmental sustainability upgrades.

Making a Plan

Step 1: In 2011, Reich convened a group of stakeholders from the various jurisdictions that oversaw this area. With the assistance of a grant from the Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, they identified an area to be termed the “Green Campus” and collaborated with Preventing Harm Minnesota on a stormwater feasibility study.

Step 2: Reich then helped gather partnerships (see below) to implement a series of projects to improve water quality and environmental sustainability, enhance a sense of community, and create greater maintenance efficiencies. These elements would be central features guiding the Neighborhood Small Area Plan that would be adopted by the City.

Renovations at Edison High School

Step 3: The first Green Campus project to be undertaken was a complete renovation of the Edison High School parking lot. Through the installation of a Swedish tree trench system, bio-swales, rain gardens and permeable pavers, the parking lot was redesigned so that it could manage the water generated by a 4” rain event and keep it from entering the storm sewer and, ultimately, the Mississippi River.

Step 4: After the parking lot project was completed in 2013, the stakeholders moved on to Edison High School’s athletic field, which had last received attention in the 1980s. The field was re-graded and sodded, thanks to several key partnerships. Goal posts, new drain tile and an innovative irrigation system was installed.

Edison High School irrigation systemSpecifically, the area east of the field was excavated to install large storage tanks that will hold stormwater runoff captured from the gymnasium roof and nearby areas. This stored water will be used to irrigate the field through a system of pumps.

What’s Next?

Flash forward to today and Reich – an enthusiastic visual communicator – envisions continuing synergy around Edison High School.

  • What if its youth, already under the tutelage of a forward-thinking science teacher, could be anchored in the neighborhood to local outdoor labs?
  • What if Metro Blooms could help create a raingarden, used as a demonstration site? And art installations educated visitors about greening?
  • What if a community garden was closer to students, who otherwise walked six blocks tending to basil for a local Thai restaurant? Edison had an enterprising special needs teacher who Reich felt deserved his own greenhouse for hands-on teaching.
  • What if solar power was used to reduce the school’s carbon footprint, while also teaching the school’s Green Council students about renewable energy for the future?

Not everyone assembled for the brainstorming process had the same passion for the ideas. “I think some thought I was a nuisance, asking for too much detail,” he said. “But I wanted this to be not only sustainable, but beautiful, educational, a public space to be proud of.”

Sustainability Partners

Step 5: In the next few months this project area will see the installation of a community plaza, concessions building, greenhouse and solar canopy.

But it hasn’t been easy. Importantly, the budget for this next phase of the Green Campus package was more than Reich had access to through various grant programs. [Grantors include Mississippi Watershed Management Organization and NFL Grassroots program, a partnership between the National Football League Foundation, the Minnesota Vikings and Local Initiatives Support Corporation].

The project was beginning to stall.

The sustainable design going up at Edison High School in Northeast Minneapolis Summer 2015 (photo: AWH Architect Alex Haecker)

The sustainable design going up at Edison High School in Northeast Minneapolis Summer 2015 (photo: AWH Architect Alex Haecker)

Enter Alex Haecker, AWH Architects, who teamed with colleague Charlie Lazor to tweak the design and not only make it feasible, but potentially within budget and aesthetically unique and attractive.

“Their thoughtful, creative, integrative design got us back on track,” said Reich.

Perseverance, vision, partnerships and grants are making Edison High School — originally built in 1922 — a step closer to having a sustainable campus with unique environmental education opportunities, with minimal cost to Minneapolis Public Schools.

Reich has had great partners throughout the effort, from finding funding — Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, (MWMO), Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), the National Football League, Minnesota Vikings, the Edison Community & Sports Foundation, Minneapolis Public Schools, the City of Minneapolis — to helping with vision — the Holland Neighborhood Improvement Association, the Holland Green Council, University of Minnesota, and Center for Energy and Environment.

Minneapolis Public Schools was the recipient of an Xcel Energy Renewable Energy grant that is funding the solar installation. SunDial Solar will begin implementing that stage of the project this fall.

School Costs: Energy Use and Air Quality

School costs for energy and air quality are high. Why is child asthma so prevalent? Did you know the second highest school budget item is energy costs?

School costs for energy are second only to personnel costs as the leading draw on K-12 school district operating budgets.

Schools spend approximately $75 per student on gas bills and $130 per student on electricity each year… By implementing energy efficiency measures, many K-12 schools have been able to reduce energy costs by as much as 30 percent in existing facilities (2004). Modification of a pre-existing building for energy efficiency can save a typical 100,000-square-foot school building between $10,000 and $16,000 annually.

— Energy Efficiency Programs in K-12 Schools, 2011, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

In addition to impactful cost savings, studies have shown that natural light and indoor air quality increase productivity and test scores, and decrease absenteeism of teachers and students. The Center for Building Performance at Carnegie Mellon University reviewed more than 1,500 studies to find that anyone – workers, teachers, students – benefits from better building design and indoor air quality.

A school that is well lit with outdoor views offers a better learning environment and raises school performance 20%, according to a study of 21,000 kids in California, Colorado and Washington.

Case Studies

Minneapolis has not been able to invest heavily in energy efficiency improvements. But examples from around the country show some of the benefits when energy efficiency funding can be found:

  • Long Beach Cesar Chavez Elementary School in California used new construction to build in natural ventilation, low water-cost landscaping, and weather-controlled irrigation. In its first year, it used 33% less energy than an equivalent standard school built to code and used 100K fewer gallons of water.
  • The 58,000 square foot Ash Creek Intermediate School in Monmouth, Oregon, was built (at $124 per square foot) for about $10 square feet less than equivalent middle schools. Its energy use is at 30% below Oregon’s energy code, saving at least $11,000 per year in electricity and gas. As the superintendent of schools in that area said, “People don’t realize how expensive it is to operate an inefficient school facility.” An elementary school in Monmouth built in the 1960s had electric bills amounting to $78,000. Students experienced a 15% reduction in absenteeism.
  • Students moving from a conventional school to the new green Clearview Elementary School, a 2002 LEED Gold building in Pennsylvania, experienced substantial improvements in health and test scores. A PhD thesis on the school found a 19% increase in average Student Oral Reading Fluency Scores when compared to the prior, conventional school.
  • Closer to home, when Red Wing High School needed to upgrade its HVAC system to improve indoor air quality, it worked with an architectural firm to ensure that its new system saves the school $120,000 annually in energy costs.

Air Pollution Factors

All buildings — including schools — reduce annual emissions of nitrogen oxides (a principal component of smog), sulfur dioxide (a principal cause of acid rain), carbon dioxide (the principal greenhouse gas and the principal product of combustion) and coarse particulate matter (a principal cause of respiratory illness and an important contributor to smog).

Did you know the World Health Organization reports that in 2012 alone, 7 million people died of air pollution? The Star Tribune reported (July 13, 2015) that Every year air pollution in the Twin Cities contributes to the deaths of about 2,000 people and sends another 1,000 to the hospital for asthma and heart disease treatment.

Asthma is a widespread and worsening disease among school children. The American Lung Association has found that American children miss more than 14 million school days a year because of asthma exacerbated by poor indoor air quality. Nationally, about one in ten of all school children suffer from asthma.

  • Carnegie Mellon has found an average reduction of 38.5% in asthma in buildings with improved air quality, and an average reduction of colds and flu by 51%.
  • A major review of the literature by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that better ventilation and indoor air quality would reduce illnesses by 9-20% in the general population, result in 16-37 million fewer cases of the cold and influenza and provide annual savings of $6-14 billion.

How Is Minneapolis Doing?

Minneapolis serves more than 30,000 students in about 50 schools. About 30 of those schools were built before 1930. Thanks to the fear of tuberculosis, state-of-the-art design at the time included open-air designs with an emphasis on safety and hygiene.

One of the earliest schools still standing is Edison High School in Northeast Minneapolis, which was built in 1922. Thanks to City Council leadership by Ward 1’s Kevin Reich, the school is undergoing environmental sustainability improvements — including irrigation and solar energy systems.

Yet to come in this series (with funding)… how do our schools measure up in energy use and air quality?

Deeper Reading

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Energy Efficiency Report, “Energy Efficiency Programs in K-12 Schools: A Guide to Developing and Implementing Greenhouse Gas Reduction Programs”

“By implementing energy efficiency measures, many K-12 schools have been able to reduce energy costs by as much as 30 percent in existing facilities (U.S. EPA, 2004b). According to EPA, modification of a pre-existing building for energy efficiency (a process known as retro-commissioning) can save a typical 100,000-square-foot school building between $10,000 and $16,000 annually, and simple behavioral and operational measures alone can reduce energy costs by up to 25 percent (U.S. EPA, 2008).”

Gregory Kats did landmark research on schools, in his 26-page 2006 report “Greening American Schools: Costs and Benefits,” determining that in the long run, a green school investment outweighs its costs 20:1.

The average school energy use in 2005/2006 was $1.15/ft, of which electricity was 63% and natural gas 34%. For the 30 green schools reviewed in the report, the average energy reduction compared with conventional design was 33% per year. The 30 green schools Kats evaluated also achieved an average water use reduction of 32%.

Minneapolis Public Schools Historic Context Study, prepared for the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission (April 2005)

For more on the costs of energy for Minneapolis and public schools nationwide, click here.