Episcopal school goes green and solar

Trinity Episcopal School in Austin, Texas has recently installed 135 solar panels on the top of one of its buildings which, along with to the 135 panels put up in Fall 2008, makes for the largest commercial solar installation in Austin.

The head of the 400 student K-8 school, Pat Adams, says that even as the panels save money on utilities paid by the school and decreases the school’s carbon footprint, the panels help teach valuable lessons.

“Even more powerful than those practical applications is the example of an entire community making a visible effort to be responsible stewards of our environment. Trinity students will grow up with a sense of responsibility for the world around them, and with a concrete example of the power of science and technology — what a magnificent legacy for years to come.”

Trinity has made “going green” a campus-wide initiative. Last year the school was one of five recipients of the Longhorn Recycle Roundup, which recognizes K-12 schools in the Austin area that have ongoing recycling programs and offer innovative ways to educate students on the importance and benefits of recycling and good stewardship.

Trinity eliminated plastic water bottles from its hot lunch service, an estimated reduction of 1,500 bottles per week. At the end of every school year, they conduct a supply drive, which yields about 400 pounds of paper goods and textbooks, thousands of crayons, pens, and markers, calculators, binders, and notebooks which are donated locally and shipped to a school in Ghana, Africa.

Students are involved in the green-oriented stewardship in practical ways. For example, The seventh grade class is responsible for the entire school’s recycling, and each week collects paper, glass, aluminum, and plastic. First graders at Trinity set up and maintain a compost pile after an in-depth study of soil and the environment.

A Trinity 4th grader has begun the “Eco Eating Club,” a student-led group that brings reusable plastic containers to school each day for use in hot lunch service. She was motivated to begin the club after reading in school about the negative effects of garbage on the environment, and decided to try to do something about the 200 polystyrene plates that get thrown away each day at lunch.

Parent communication is now almost entirely paperless. Trinity estimates a 75% reduction in the amount of paper that gets sent home to parents.

The school has applied technology to save energy in other ways. They have installed motion sensors on lights in the school’s common areas, and replaced 23 thermostats around the campus with new high-efficiency programmable units. These two small changes are estimated to save the school an additional $6,000 – $7,000 each year.

Trinity Episcopal School Facilities Manager Dale Blankenship is already brainstorming other ways to reduce the school’s use of natural resources. “We are only at the beginning of this process,” he says. “The example we’re setting for our students is priceless.”

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