School board members question ‘green’ school proposal

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By Angye Morrison

The Gadsden County School Board was presented with the idea of building a “green” school in Havana during its meeting last week – and the idea became a subject of debate amongst board members.

A green school has a “significant portion of green and sustainable actual building materials and systems that incorporate high energy efficiency and water conservation measures.” This type of building will use 33 percent less energy, save 32 percent more water and reduce solid waste by 74 percent. On average, green schools save $100,000 per year.

The new school would integrate science-oriented greening activities into every part of the curriculum, and would be used as a hands-on laboratory, with an outdoor natural science lab to complement those activities.

The school would serve children from 6 months old though fifth grade. An infant scholars program would be initiated, with parenting classes as part of the program.

The proposal, as presented to the school board, was that the school board make a request for $25 million in federal stimulus dollars, which would be used to build the school. It would be a replacement for the existing Havana Elementary School.

According to organizers, plans for the new school could be done in 120 days, making it shovel-ready, a requirement to obtain stimulus dollars.

Although board members were all in agreement that the idea of a green school is a good one, some expressed concern regarding up-front costs and flaws in the proposal.

Judge Helms, school board chairman, said he was concerned about the lack of funds the district already has on hand.

“We’ve got land, no problem. But when you’re talking about (building a) school, that threw me for a loop,” he said, adding that he’s also concerned about putting money up front, in order to put a plan together, when “we don’t even know if we’ll get any stimulus dollars.”

“I think we all know we have too many student stations as it is,” said Isaac Simmons, board member. “We don’t know what kind of cost this will incur.”

Simmons also questioned how the district would fund a program for children 6 months to 3 years of age.

“Besides that, I just don’t think there’s enough information here to make a decision,” he said, referring to the two-page document provided by the committee presenting the proposal.

Board member Eric Hinson disagreed with Simmons.

“It’s a great opportunity. I say we move forward and see what happens,” he said.

After some debate as to what the committee was actually asking for, it was determined that all they were asking for that night was support from the board for the project. The stamp of approval from a governmental body is a requirement when requesting federal stimulus dollars, committee members said.

The board would then be expected to develop a plan to build the school, which would need to be submitted with the paperwork requesting the stimulus dollars.

But board members questioned that as well, saying that it would take money to put that plan together – which the board does not have to spare at this time.

Hinson told the board that he felt the board should just go ahead with the idea, and if the board determined at a later date it didn’t want to build the school, the district could “just give the $25 million back.”

A motion was made to table the idea, pending further discussion and the provision of more information.