Special Report

Where Are the Greenest Schools in the Country?

The definition of being eco-conscious is so much more than having solar panels on a roof

Manassas Park Elementary School, Manassas, Virginia. Architect: VMDO Architects, PC. (© Sam Kittner)

When you look at the numbers, it becomes shockingly apparent why the greening of schools in our country should be a priority. Upward of 60 million Americans—a figure amounting to 20 percent of the country’s total population—work and study in K-12 schools on a daily basis. Sadly, though, of the 98,000 public schools in the United States, some 25,000 are crying out for repairs; in the most desperate cases, students and teachers are breathing in toxin-laced air.

Green Schools, a new exhibition at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., presents 41 elementary, junior high and high schools—13 local to the Maryland, Virginia and D.C. area—that are leaders in sustainable design. The schools reflect a variety of projects, from small-scale measures, like converting to eco-friendly cleaning supplies, to sweeping, LEED-certified redesigns of entire buildings.

“You will see that range,” says Sarah Leavitt, a curator at the museum. “There is something we can all do to green our schools.”

What follows is a survey of nine exemplary schools featured in the exhibition. Green Schools is on view at the National Building Museum through January 5, 2014.

Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School Washington, D.C.

Phelps Architecture, Construction, and Engineering High School
(Photo by Jim Maguire, Maguire Photographics.))

Phelps ACE High School in Washington, D.C., takes a unique approach to education, in that in addition to traditional academic subjects it offers technical courses in welding, electricity, plumbing and carpentry. “The entire building is designed as a teaching tool,” says the school’s website. For students to clearly see how the building is constructed, some of the plumbing pipes are left exposed, for example, and anyone can read monitors in the school that register how much energy is being supplied by its photovoltaic solar arrays and helical wind turbines.


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