The Greenprint Project: Fixing the World One Energy Inefficiency at a Time

Felix Colon put away his digital thermometer after visiting the fourth classroom at Liberty School. He quickly realized that he didn’t need the thermometer to prove that there were irregularities in the temperatures. From room to room the temperature varied immensely. In the previous classroom he had to unzip his black wool coat and in the next room he had had to put it back on.

In another classroom he noticed that the windows and doors had a gap even when they’re closed all the way. Through these gaps Felix could feel a cool breeze seeping in. “This explains why it’s cold in here,” he thinks to himself.

By the time he reaches the sixth classroom, Felix realized something else: none of the classrooms had control of the temperature inside the room. Instead, the temperature was controlled by a single on/off switch that was located in the basement of the school which was accessible to only a small number of staff members and janitors.

“It was the same thing in all four elementary schools we visited,” Colon said as he leaned against the modern bricks that constructed the Springfield Renaissance High School.

A ninth grader at The Springfield Renaissance High School, Colon said he had no idea what the Greenprint Project was before he came to the high school. The only reason he chose to attend that particular school was because his older brother is a student there also.

“It’s a new school and my brother goes here. Those were the two things that attracted me to the school the most,” Colon said as he buttoned up his black wool coat and put on his gray beanie.

He mentions how sunny the day was and how much energy can be saved if all of his and his classmate’s ideas were implemented in all the schools around the state. This was a true testament which showed that students who participate in the project take on a whole new mentality. The desire to be more energy efficient lingers well after the project is completed.

After finding a suitable spot on a bench just outside the high school’s cafeteria, Colon sits down and begins explaining the Greenprint Project in depth.

The Greenprint Project is a yearly learning expedition undertaken by ninth graders at the high school. During the semester long expedition the students perform audits on local elementary schools in an effort to find ways in which the schools can become more energy efficient. At the end of the semester the students compile their findings and present them, along with their suggestions on how the faculty and city can make the schools more energy efficient, to the mayor of Springfield.

According to Vanessa Cramer, the ninth grade environmental science teacher who worked alongside the students, “the work that students have done to prepare this report is important real world experience.”

The project is in its third year and is responsible for many changes in the audited schools. According to Stephen Mahoney, the principal at the high school, there have been 12 elementary schools audited since the inception of the Greenprint Project. Of those schools, eight of them implemented changes that were based on suggestions from the Greenprint Project. The other four schools are preparing to implement some of the changes during the summer vacations.

The students proposed a number of solutions that have been applied to Springfield schools which ranged from web-based energy management systems to radiator control valves to direct digital controls for heating and cooling systems.

“The vending machines inside the teacher’s lounge of the schools were a waste of energy too,” said Colon as he explained what his findings were.

“The machines ran all day nonstop. The only way they’d stop running was if they were unplugged,” he explained.

In order to fix this energy inefficiency Colon and the rest of his classmates suggested that the schools install vending machine ‘misers’ – motion sensors that detect when people are near and help the vending machine operate the lighting and cooling cycles in a more energy friendly manner by telling the vending machine when and when not to cool.

Joe Forest, the facilities engineer for Springfield who worked alongside the students, said that the Greenprint Project is “increasing the student’s ability to learn and to be taught by making the learning environment more comfortable.”

According to Forest, it would cost a little more than $150,000 to implement all of the changes to the four elementary schools that were suggested by the students. However, “the schools would benefit from about $30,000 a year in energy savings,” said Forest over a phone conversation. “The money spent to implement these changes would be recovered in about five years.”

During the presentation of their findings earlier this year, Mayor Domenic Sarno reminded the students how important their work was to the community. “You’re thinking out of the box and taking initiative. Your work makes our school system even better,” Sarno told the students.

Joseph Denesha, a ninth grader who participated in the Greenprint Project in 2011, agreed with the mayor. “The better the schools are for the students, the better the grades will be,” Denesha said while adding that the students in the elementary schools are the future of the city and they need to be helped by providing a comfortable learning environment.

The Greenprint Project seems to also have an impact on the participant’s learning and their grades. In 2010 the Springfield Renaissance High School became the first school in the city to have 100 percent of their graduating class be accepted into college. “We are very proud of that in this school. Our students recognize that accomplishment and try very hard to achieve that goal every year,” said Principal Mahoney as he adjusted his green with white polka dots bowtie.

Thinking back on the project, Colon said he was glad that he was able to help his community. “Teens in Springfield get a bad rap in the news because a lot of them are misguided. I’m happy to show the rest of the world that not everyone in this city is a bad person,” he said as he stood up.

As Colon pulled his coat tighter over his shoulders and tightened the beanie over his head he points out that it was time for him to return to class. “I’ve got to go to class if I’m going to continue helping my community,” he said as he departed with a firm handshake.

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