Kansas City Academy colors everything green
by Kate Duffy
One full school year after Kansas City Academy students decided their school could be a little greener, they have built a greenhouse, planted a large vegetable garden and prepared a report for the school’s board of directors on the amount of energy used to light the building. A Green Team is in place, locally grown food is served in the cafeteria and the physics teacher is considering placing a wind turbine on the roof to generate electricity.
It is probably safe to say that, in this 2008-09 school year, students may feel healthier, the administration is less concerned about increasing heating and power costs, and the neighbors are curious about – and maybe even inspired by – the big, hoop-shaped greenhouse in the south schoolyard. All this marks the beginning of the greening of Kansas City Academy, a small private school housed in a former engineering school at 7933 Main St. in Kansas City’s Waldo neighborhood.
The hoop-shaped greenhouse in the south schoolyard may generate the most attention. Planted with tomatoes, peppers, zuchinni, and other summer vegetables, this greehouse garden is watered with rainwater runoff from the roof that is stored in tanks. Inside the school, the changes are less noticeable to neighbors, but are just as important as students, grades 6-12 compete to make the “hottest” compost, and school staffers install energy-efficient light fixtures thoughout the building
All those involved with KCA’s drive toward sustainability seem excited about what’s going on at the school, from board members and community consultants to teachers and the students themselves.
“We want to be a model for the neighborhood,” says Don Reck, a KCA board member and the director of Habitat for Humanity’s Restore. “We’re a small private school, and we don’t have a lot of money. We’re in the blue-collar neighborhood and we want to show people that we don’t all live in a 10,000 square foot house. We could be catalyst. This will be good for the whole Waldo neighborhood.”
5 steps to saving energy
Although Kansas City Academy is larger than a family home, the two have much in common when it comes to becoming more energy efficient on a tight budget.
Many schools – and homeowners – worry about enery loss through their windows. But replacing windows, especially all 56 at KCA is expensive and has a long payback period, a minimum of 20 to 25 years. To keep conditioned air inside, KCA plans on sealing all the windows and tinting the ones on the west side to cut down on solar heat, according to KCA board member Don Reck. In cool weather, the school will hang drapes on those west windows to retain the warm air.
Last fall, Missouri Energy Works performed a walk through audit of the school’s lighting, heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems. It’s advice is good for both large commercial buildings and individual homes. The report suggested that KCA:
Install more energy-efficient lighting fixtures thoughout the school to increase the light level, while reducing consumption by 30 percent
Install a central-energy control system that would turn off or set back/set up temperatures when school is out, reducing both electric and natural gas consumption. “In conducting these audits, we have found a lot of school systems operate 24/7,” says Bob Housh of the Metropolitan Energy Center. To reduce costs, schools need to carefully plan off-schedule activities and use energy only when there are events or school is in session
Install compact flourescent lights (CFL’s), which save schools 25 percent of energy costs.
Keep lights turned off when they’re not needed.
Keep heating and cooking equipment well maintained and free from mineral deposits, dirt and dust that can lower equipment efficiency.
Granted, the Greenability Challenge is a big undertaking, but not impossible. Greenability created the challenge series in partnership with Bridging The Gap and the Metropolitan Energy Center to help local families make greener choices for their lives. Although the KCA “family” is larger than most, it still faces many of the same challenges as it adopts a reduce, reuse and recycle philosophy in its daily practices.
KCA’s outside resource team includes:
Bob Housh of Kansas City’s Metropolitan Energy Center, which conducted the school’s energy audit through its Missour Energy Works division. Housh also assists the school with energy educatjion for its science curriculum.
Andrea Matthew of Kansas City community Gardens Schoolyard Gardens Program, which advised the school about its garden and greenhouse.
Kiersten Firquain and Coby Bryars of Bistro Kids Farm 2 School Lunch Program, a local company providing healthy and kid-friendly school lunches using locally grown foods as much as possible. Starting this fall, KCA’s gardens will supply some of the food served in the cafeteria.
Don Reck, director of Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, and Bill Lepentis, an architect with Gatinger Walker Harden Architects, both of whom are KCA community board members
Stacia Stelk, a consultant to Bridging The Gap, who assisted the school’s Green Team with its strategic planning process.
So just how does a 49-year-old, 27,574-square-foot, 25-room brick school, with 56 windows and 75 students go green?
“It started at the student level last fall when we were revising our strategic priorities,” explains Kathy Baldwin-Heitman, KCA’s admissions director.
Teachers listened carefully to the students who requested that the school take on sustainability as one of its projects. Some of the students were already recycling at home, but they wanted to do more at the school. Like any good group of educators spotting a teachable moment, the staff encouraged the students to develop their ideas and then present them to the school’s board of directors.
Kansas City Academy uses hands-on projects and real-world problems in its curriculum, so adding sustainability to the mix of subjects was a good fit. Teachers and students regularly do field research and make a point of involving the community in their projects.
The school went to the community again when it formed its eight-member Green Team, which is commprised of two community members, two faculty, two parents and two students. This planning group selected five initiatives and presented them to the administration and KCA Student Council, which then assigned the initiative to an eight-member crew. Every person in the building is on a crew, and therefore involved with the greening of the school.
Here’s the first group of initiatives:
Install recycling bins in classrooms and halls to collect paper, plastic and cans.
Support carpooling and alternative (low-carbon) transportation
Sonsor a campaign to turn off lights and computers, and adjust the thermostat.
Eliminate disposable water bottles.
In Carol Eschen’s science class last spring, students experimented with different compost recipes to see which would generate the most heat, proof that bacteria were hard at work turning the vegetable scraps from the kitchen, and leaves and dirt from the yard, into rich organic fertilizer for the student garden. The winning formula included a splash of beer, based on advice students had received during a visit to a garden store.
“One of the staff members there had mentioned that he had good luck with his compost by adding beer to it,” Eschen says. “When we got back to school, one of the students asked if he could add some to his, and his compost won. Beer easily breaks down into sugars, and bacteria need that to work.”
At the same time, Anne Goldcamp’s physics students were studying the school’s energy usage and cost to light the building. They determined the building was actually under-lit, and presented their recommendations to the school’s board of directors. This fall, Goldcamp’s students will continue studying the school’s energy usage, but this time on a larger scale as they learn about the electic grid and ways to conserve their own power usage. They’re also looking at alternatives for making power, Goldcamp says, and are considering installing a little turbine on the roof.
All in all, things are greening up at the Academy.
Bistro Kids And community garden serve up healthy food
Two organizations are working with Kansas city Academy to provide healthier lunches and a closer connection between students and their food.
The one-year-old Bistro Kids Farm 2 School Lunch Program (www.bistrokids.com or 913.710.5171) places a chef in the school who uses locally grown foods in preparing students’ lunches. Owner Kiersten Firquain partners with local farmers and local grocers, like Hen House, to use food that is produced within a 200-mile radius of Kansas City. The student lunches include hormone-free-milk, fresh fruits and vegetables, grass-fed meats and whole grains.
KCA’s garden fits neatly into Bistro Kids’ philosophy.
“There’s a great need for this kind of hands-on education about food for students,” Firquain says.
KCA’s second food-related partner is Kansas City Community Gardens’ School Gardens program (www.kccg.org or 816.931.3877), which works with 1,700 students across the metropolitan area in cultivating school gardens. In addition to seeds, tools, fertilizer and tilling services, schools also receive training for teachers in incorporating science and nutrition into the school’s curriculum.
“It’s never to early or late to teach kids about gardening,” says Andrea Matthew, KCCG program coordinator.
Take the greenablility Challenge
Are you and your family ready to learn how to change your lifestyle to help save the environment? Each “challenge famil” receives a free energy audit valued at $500 and many suggestions for making your lifestyle more eco-friendly. Apply for the Greenability challenge at www.greenabilitymagazine.com