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Hancock Bill Would Require Green School Construction By J. DOUGLAS ALLEN-TAYLOR

Tuesday August 09, 2005

Legislation by Assemblymember Loni Hancock (D-Berkeley) that would require “green” construction for new school buildings in the state may have minimal effect in Berkeley, despite the fact that several new school construction projects are pending in the city. 

“Berkeley probably already does more with green construction than most cities, and that’s without legislation,” said Mark Coplan, Berkeley Unified School District public information officer. 

Hancock’s bill—AB 315—would require that all new school buildings built with state funds be “high-performance schools,” which the legislator’s office defines as schools with increased natural daylight, recycled materials, high indoor air quality, and windows that open. The legislation also calls for increased use of renewable energy in new school construction—such as solar panels—and water conservation and reuse. 

The bill is before the California Senate Appropriations Committee, where it will be considered on Aug. 15. It passed in the Senate Education Committee early last month on an 8-2 vote, and passed in the Assembly last May on a 47-32 vote. 

Last year, after the legislature passed a previous version of Hancock’s green school construction bill, Schwarzenegger vetoed it, calling the legislature “premature.” 

He said, “While I am very supportive of efforts to improve the environment of California’s classrooms, as well as promoting energy efficiency and conservation, this policy discussion more appropriately should be considered within the context of a comprehensive environmental policy involving energy efficient housing, schools and commercial properties.” 

Hans Hemann, Hanock’s chief of staff, says he does not anticipate a problem in the State Senate, but said “we have to do our homework to convince the administration” of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. 

“I believe they’re sympathetic,” he said. “But there may be some disagreement on how to accomplish the goals of environmentally-sound construction.” 

Hancock’s bill would require the State Allocation Board (SAB) to establish regulations for “high-performance schools” in the area of energy and water efficiency and indoor environmental quality measures. 

Funding for the increased construction costs would be a joint state-local effort. 

Hanock’s bill requires the state to provide half of the required increased environmental construction costs, and also requires the SAB to “establish a method” to provide up to 100 percent of the increased construction costs to school districts “that qualify for hardship funding.” 

Hardship in this context means a district that had not been able to win the passage of local school bond construction bonds despite several tries. State funding would be provided by state school construction bonds. 

In addition, a recent report issued by Global Green USA—a Santa Monica-based nonprofit agency that is promoting Hancock’s green schools legislation—noted that building energy-efficient schools would increase school attendance, thus increasing state aid to local schools that comply. 

“One half of our nation’s schools have problems linked to poor indoor air quality ... which leads to absences,” the report stated. 

The organization estimated that the Los Angeles Unified School District would gain $94,000 to $188,000 per year per school for each school constructed under “green school” guidelines, adding $14 million to $28 million in annual state aid to Los Angeles public schools for the 150 new green schools that district is planning to build. 

But in local school districts, where the state legislature, the governor, and teacher’s unions are battling over how much state tax money should go to local school districts, it is unclear how the state would handle the new ADA expenditures that the new construction under Hancock’s bill would eventually require. 

If the problems of the initial costs can be surmounted, however, the long-term savings may be considerable. 

A 2003 report to California’s Sustainable Building Task Force by Capital E—a national clean energy building consultant firm—concluded that a 2 percent initial increase in green construction would eventually yield a savings that amounted to 20 percent of construction costs over the lifetime of the building. 

BUSD’s Coplan said that it is his understanding that the $5 million dining commons currently being built at King Middle School is “a completely green building.” The district hopes that facility will be ready for the opening of the new school year later this month. 

While Berkeley Unified has no plans in the near future to build any new schools, the district has major new construction in the works. At Berkeley High School, the district has plans to build new athletic facilities as well as classrooms on the southern side of its campus. And while renovation of existing facilities—including development of the new administrative center—will take up most of the initial phase of the West Campus overhaul, the district anticipates that at least some new building construction will take place on the University Avenue site in later stages. 

The most recently built “high-performance school” in the area was Oakland Unified School District’s Cesar Chavez Education Center on the grounds of the old Montgomery Ward Building at 29th Avenue and International Boulevard in the Fruitvale section of the city. The K-5 school, which was begun before the state takeover of Oakland Unified and completed in the fall of 2003, includes natural ventilation as well as what the non-profit Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) called a goal of “maximum use of daylighting ... for classrooms.”?