Springdale Park ElementaryBy Jenn Ballentine

Spurred by architects Perkins and Will, Atlanta Public Schools (APS) decided to “go green” and apply for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification when building its newest elementary school, Springdale Park (SPARK). Located at 1274 Ponce de Leon Ave. between Briarcliff and Springdale roads, SPARK will serve residents of Virginia Highland, Poncey Highland, Midtown and the part of Druid Hills within the City of Atlanta.

The school, designed to relieve overcrowding at Morningside Elementary, is situated on the former site of the Howard School. One of the existing, historic buildings, the Rutland Building, was renovated this past year and connected to a new, modern building on the back of the property. The Hirsch Mansion, which houses administrative offices, will be renovated this fall.

To ascertain LEED certification, the school has to meet certain prerequisites and benchmarks related to sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency, materials selection and indoor air quality. When the renovation is completed, Springdale Park will apply for silver-level certification. To achieve this level of certification, the school has set the following goals:

• Divert 75 percent or more of all construction waste from landfills by separating and recycling waste materials.

• Reduce energy usage by 24 percent or more over standard building practices by using energy-efficient mechanical systems, increased use of daylighting and careful selection of window glazing.

• Install geothermal heating and cooling systems consisting of 50 wells, drilled approximately 400 feet into the ground, to provide energy-efficient heating and cooling for the new building.

• Construct at least 20 percent of the building with materials made from recycled content (post-consumer plus half pre-consumer).

• Use low-VOC (Volatile Organic Compounds) adhesives and sealants on the interior of the new building, reducing indoor air contaminants that are odorous, irritating and/or harmful to the comfort and well-being of installers and occupants.

• Build classrooms that are acoustically designed to limit noise from the outside and to reduce noise between spaces so teachers can better teach and students can effectively hear and communicate.

• Reduce water use by 20 percent (over current typical water use design) by using high-efficiency fixtures such as low-flow toilets and faucets.

• Obtain 10 percent of materials from within a 500-mile radius of the school, thereby supporting the use of indigenous resources and reducing the environmental impacts of transportation.

Springdale Park intends to carry the green concept even further, incorporating green elements into school policies and practices and the educational curriculum. For example, the school was appointed with furniture that is formaldehyde-free and is cleaned with all natural, green cleaning products. Faculty and staff are strongly encouraged to reduce waste, recycle and use renewable resources when possible.

SPARK’s principal, Yolanda Brown, is dedicated to green learning principles. She and the Springdale Park Parent-Teacher Organization intend to integrate green concepts such as organic gardening, recycling, and composting into the curriculum. The school has a rooftop garden in addition to a land-based garden and plans to implement a Farm to School program in which food that is grown in the gardens is used in the cafeteria.

For Brown, the opportunity to impart such lessons to the students and to serve as a model for other schools is exciting. “I am thrilled for the children to be able to learn about their environment and the impact their actions have on the broader world. For kids who have asthma or other health conditions, Springdale Park will be a healthier place to learn. They will be breathing much cleaner air. And for us to serve as a model for other schools who want to go green is very exciting. We intend to be a leader in this area,” she said.

While Springdale Park will be APS’s first LEED-certified school, APS has consistently strived to build as efficiently as possible, according to Executive Director of Facilities Valerie Thomas. “APS school designs are energy-efficient in the HVAC systems, water usage, lighting systems, building envelope and site as normal policy,” said Thomas.

Since the decision to build SPARK LEED-certified was made, APS has decided to seek LEED certification for all of the schools it is currently renovating or constructing. For APS, the benefits range from lower energy bills and healthier environments for students and staff to the potential for increased test scores. “Children and teachers will benefit from indoor environmental air quality and classrooms that are acoustically designed to limit noise so that teachers can better teach and students can effectively hear and communicate. This will ultimately result in better student test scores and learning,” said Thomas.

For more information on Springdale Park Elementary School and Atlanta Public Schools, visit http://newneschool.org and http://www.atlanta.k12.ga.us.

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.