gayle_harper_nancy_sutley_web.jpgWEST PALM BEACH —Northboro Elementary’s efforts to protect natural resources attracted the attention of the Obama administration which sent a top official to visit the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold-certified school.

Nancy Sutley, lead environmental advisor to President Barack Obama, toured the school Jan. 5 to view its conservation efforts that include a new playground with an artificial  turf surface, a butterfly garden, a hydroponic and soil-based garden and a recycling program.

It took the school at 400 40th St., West Palm Beach, 16 months to make the environmentally friendly upgrades, even as students were attending classes much of the time.

Students are learning that the earth is important and protecting its natural resources is vital in ensuring the welfare of its future, said Principal Gayle Harper.

“We have incorporated the green initiatives (into the

curriculum).  Kids are involved in recycling.  We have a recycling club.  We have a gardening club,” Harper said. “The students are involved in the hydroponic (growing plants without soil) and soil-based gardens that we have here.”

LEED buildings are given points for green initiatives, which may be rated as silver, gold or platinum. To become LEED certified a building must earn 40–49 points, silver 50–59 points, gold 60–79 points and platinum 80 points and above.

Harper led Sutley, who chairs the White House Council on Environmental Quality, on a tour of the school, accompanied by West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, West Palm Beach CIty Commissioner Sylvia Moffett and Palm Beach County School Board Member Chuck Shaw.

Green schools can benefit students and the surrounding communities, Sutley said. “It shows that any community can do this.  You can provide a better learning environment for kids,” she said. “These energy savings pay back right away.  It frees up money that can be spent in educating kids and not just paying energy bills to the utility or paying your water bill.”

Carroll Vigil, senior vice president of BRPH Architects-Engineers, said the Northboro project came in under budget and other schools can use those funds.

“Construction costs were somewhere around $26 million.  And then there are other costs that are tacked on, on top of that,” he said. “There were a couple of million from the budget that was not used and returned to the school district.”

Vigil agreed that energy-saving devices are cost-effective and will provide additional savings throughout the years.

“High-efficiency chillers, controls that can control the air conditioning at varying degrees, are extra costs initially,” he said.

“But over just a few years they all pay for themselves.  After that, it’s just more and more savings every year that just keep building.”

Vigil said the administration at the Palm Beach County School District has made it a policy that all new schools will be green from now on.

Sutley said many may find jobs renovating and designing green schools, which is important because of the economy, and the collapse of the housing market and construction industry.

“We’ve heard from the architects, designers and the people who do the LEED certification,” she said. “Every one of the elements of building a green school has jobs associated with it from the people who are figuring out how to make it green to the people who do the bookkeeping.”

Northboro Elementary is also a Montessori Magnet, where students learn as a whole group and as an individual, which bodes well with the green initiative, Harper said.

“Kids are very aware of the universe in which they live.  Much of what they do is to explore their environment,” she said. “They work at their own pace.  Students will be engaged in hands-on learning in the classroom.”


WHITE HOUSE TO GREEN SCHOOL: (L-R) Northboro Elementary School Principal Gayle Harper is congratulated by lead White House environmental advisor Nancy Sutley on the school’s green initiatives, such as the artificial turf playground surface that aids in safety and cleanliness.