OSD Board mulls options for green building

Scott De Laruelle

With the clock ticking on deciding to pursue a school district referendum in November, school board members explored some “green” building possibilities at a special meeting July 23.

Representatives from Bray Architects and Findorff Co. were on hand to talk about what district officials might want included in a potential Nov. 4 referendum – something that board president Dan Krause said will decided on by Aug. 19.

“There are a lot of things to get done before November, and there are always arguments for going forward and arguments against going forward,” he said. “Let’s try to move forward with the goal of doing this is November. Give your best efforts until Aug. 19 and then we’ll decide if this is the right thing to do.”

The Aug. 19 special board meeting is the latest the board can authorize a November referendum.

Krause said the “green” portion of potential construction costs is slated for around $7.5 million dollars, including geothermal systems for heating and cooling and solar panels to produce electricity at Oregon High School, Oregon Middle School, Brooklyn Elementary School and Netherwood Knoll Elementary School.

Noting some proposed gymnasium additions at Oregon High School that would include solar panels, school principal Kelly Meyers said the space is for “community fitness,” not just high schoolers.

“That space is used every hour, on the hour, morning, noon and night,” she said. “It’s physical education, but the preponderance of the use of the space … is affecting our community at large, significantly.

We can barely keep up with competing entries for who wants to use the space for their activities.

“It’s a space that is serving our public extremely well, we’re allowing other entities into it as much as we can, but we can’t keep up with the current demand.”

Money vs. carbon

District architects said a proposed 73-kilowatt solar panel on a roof at Oregon Middle School (cost $288,000), would generate about 10 percent of the current electrical usage at the building, saving around $9,000 a year in electrical costs.

Geothermal systems are also proposed in building additions at the high school, middle school, Brooklyn Elementary and NKE. In response to a statement from architects that “you are going to have more carbon with geothermal than you are with a conventional system,” because of more electricity and less natural gas use, board member Barb Feeney said the district needs to determine its priorities.

“Are we talking about saving money or are we talking about saving carbon?” she asked. “If our objective is to be green and save on carbon, is this the best way to do that? If we are generating more carbon with a geothermal system … it’s about public perception, but it’s also about being honest about what we’re doing.”

Matt Wolfert of Bray Architects said “green” technology means different things to different people, which is something the board must be aware of in its deliberations.

“There might be somebody who feels that the extraction of natural gas is just as awful to our environment as carbon,” he said. “So in their world, the way they define green, this is the greatest green thing ever, because it’s reducing our consumption of natural gas. There are both sides on this issue, and it’s part of the struggle when we communicate ‘green.’”

Consultant Joe Donovan, who has worked with school districts in talking about both green projects and referendums, said there is a disparity between what people say they want and what they actually support.

“The thing we find consistently is that there’s not the kind of support I would have expected in the community for the green efforts, especially those who do not have a significant return on investment or that you can’t make a compelling financial case for,” he said. “I keep hoping that will change. We tested it a lot of different ways with surveys and polls and we don’t find people necessarily want to go out and get more votes for a referendum for it. It’s a very difficult conversation.”

Board member Gwen Maitzen said if it’s shown that green initiatives can be done, even incrementally, in the school district, it will be a positive for the community.

“I would like to take that risk, because it starts the conversation,” she said. “Maybe it’s time to start putting our money where our mouth is ... It’s not an either-or situation, it’s how do we balance it with the education component?”

Board member Charles Uphoff said it’s important the district be able to articulate a long-term position on green technology.

“This is really making a down payment on something that has a longer future,” he said. “People (should) understand we’re still making the tough choices; we’re not trying to do everything, but we have an opportunity to make a significant down payment on that going forward. It’s important to have that long-term vision as well.”

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