I met Elaine Lipman Barnes through Twitter (elbarneshouse).  Soon I learned that she manages a billion dollar green schools program in Ohio.  Since green schools are an emerging industry, I thought Elaine would be perfect for a Sensible Interview.  She didn’t disappoint.  Enjoy! 

Chris:  Can you tell me about the green building program you manage?

: I manage Ohio’s Green Schools Initiative at the Ohio School Facilities Commission (OSFC).  In 2007, Governor Ted Strickland issued Executive Order 2007-02S (Coordinating Ohio Energy Policy and State Energy Utilization) that mandated that, among other things, all state agencies improve energy efficiency in both the buildings they use and the programs they run.  Our response eventually became known as OSFC Resolution 07-124 which mandates that all newly constructed or substantially renovated school buildings that are state funded achieve a minimum of Silver certification in the US Green Building Council’s LEED-Schools (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system with emphasis in energy conservation.

We estimate that we will provide $4.1 billion in school funding over a 3 year period to begin the construction process of at least 250 schools in Ohio.  My responsibility is to guide our design teams in their process of achieving this standard of excellence.  As of February 1st, we had 97 school projects registered with the US Green Building Council  and expect to have around 180 registered by the close of this state fiscal year.

Chris:  One area where I see potential green building disputes is green schools.  School districts are building green schools, in part, because of the energy efficiency and related cost savings.  How important a factor is energy efficiency for the Ohio green school program?  How do school districts incorporate projected energy efficiency savings into school budgets?

Elaine: Our mandate stems from a desire to make schools energy efficient and to reduce long term operating costs.  Because we have set a high standard for integrating technology into the classroom, and because our average school that will be replaced is over 70 years old, we are buildings schools that have significantly higher energy costs than what the districts are used to. The associated increases in consumption are often 200-1000% greater than the old buildings and many districts have difficulties affording these costs. Further, there are cases where the increase in consumption means an increase in energy rates per kWh (or Btu) and so the costs skyrocket.

We have increased our master plan budgets for all schools that fall under Resolution 07-124 by 3% to account for the new design process and emphasis on potentially greater first cost to reduce long term operating expenses.  Additionally, OSFC has developed provisions for districts to use our Energy Conservation Program (aka 1986 Am. Sub. HB264), which allows the district to incur bonded indebtedness with unanimous approval of the school board without public vote provided the energy conservation measures have a payback period of less than 15 years, to cover incremental costs increases of more expensive systems, renewable energy installation, and co-generation.

The question of how schools incorporate the energy savings into their budgets is interesting.  Traditionally, there is no direct process for that because a school’s capital budget and operating budget are both restricted.  HB264 allows for operational savings to pay off capital expenditures over the approved project period.  Governor Strickland and his Energy Advisor, Mark Shanahan are working with the Ohio Department of Education to develop a process of better managing the connection between these budgets and ensuring that districts are able to reinvest their savings into staff, capital expenses, and, of course, the classroom.

Chris:  A portion of the economic stimulus funding is supposed to go to modernizing schools.  Does this mean making schools green?  Do you anticipate seeing some of the stimulus package money designated to your green schools program?

Elaine:  It appears as though both the House and Senate versions of the economic stimulus package have language requiring the school modernizations to be green.  It isn’t clear how they will define "green."  It also appears that the stimulus funds will be either offered directly to the districts or to the districts via the Department of Education (ODE).  We will work with ODE and the districts to provide technical support and are currently working with our partners across the state to begin to determine what that might look like.

Elaine Lipman Barnes is the Energy & Environment Administrator for the Ohio School Facilities Commission.  For more information about OSFC or Ohio’s Green Schools Initiative, visit http://osfc.ohio.gov  or call 614.466.6290

Related Links: