The Pacific Northwest isn't known for an abundance of sunny days, but that's not stopping Oregon. The state has begun reaping impressive savings from design innovations in public school classrooms that incorporate natural light and other green construction techniques.
States across the country have been designing energy-saving features into their classrooms for years, but Oregon officials say green construction is finally starting to save money. Last fall, state building engineers toured a mock schoolroom, the High Performance Classroom, that is lit entirely by natural light. The 30-foot square room was designed by private architects and a University of Oregon professor to demonstrate that a no-energy school room could be built at competitive costs.
The state is now incorporating elements of the High Performance Classroom into its school construction. In addition, it has been implementing other green construction features, including natural ventilation systems, skylights and the use of groundwater for heating and cooling. Those advances can save Oregon schools up to 50 percent in energy costs.
Although green school construction has become more cost-efficient, it is still more expensive initially than traditional methods. But Oregon's unique package of tax credits, grants and utilities incentives makes this kind of construction more competitive. "It's costing a little more up front, but the operating budget is lower down the line," says Betty Merrill, director of building technologies for the Oregon Department of Energy. "Our hope is that, with the incentives and the energy savings, we can make it cost-neutral." Merrill says green buildings can now make up for their higher construction price tag in about 15 years.