State gives Issaquah School District campuses ‘green’ thumbs up

July 31, 2012

By Lillian O'Rorke

Creekside Elementary School Principal Robin Earl discusses the then-new school building prior to its opening in 2010. Visible behind her are the high windows that help cut back on the use of electric lighting. File

Local schools are no stranger to environmental awards, but the Issaquah School District was pleasantly surprised July 23 when two of its schools were honored by the state for their “green” leadership.

Creekside Elementary and Issaquah Middle schools were two of Washington’s five schools awarded the Pillar 1 honor for Environmental Impact and Energy Efficiency by State Superintendent Randy Dorn. Eleven “green” awards were given by the state in three different pillar categories.

“It’s quite thrilling actually,” said John Macartney, the district’s resource conservation manager, recalling that the 17-page award application was a bit daunting. “It was a big deal.”

All of the district’s 24 schools recycle and 21 of them compost but Creekside Elementary and Issaquah Middle both have pretty impressive programs, Macartney said.

Even before its doors opened in fall 2010, Creekside was an ‘A’ student at saving energy. The building’s design includes several “green” features, like seed-board walls made of repurposed plants and windows high up in the hallways that provide natural light, cutting back on electrical light. Energy-efficient fans circulate air in classrooms to maximize the air conditioning that’s used, and the school has a no-idling policy that applies even to school buses.

“It’s been an important part of our school culture since the beginning,” Creekside Principal Robin Earl said.

Older students often give building tours to the school’s visitors, showing off the “green” innovations.

“Guests give me feedback and tell me that these kids are really proud of this building,” Earl said. “What we are trying to do in our leadership theme with our students is include in that that they have a leadership role in keeping our environment safe.”

It’s not just the building that’s “green.” Custodian Dave Holbrook is a two-time winner of King County’s Earth Hero award. Holbrook’s stewardship efforts include facilitating, with the help of program assistant Judy Bowlby, a student green team. The group volunteers in the lunchroom to help people figure out whether their waste goes in the garbage, recycling or compost bin.

The program has been so successful that the biggest challenge has become honoring all the students who want to get involved, Earl said. The state award, she added, was not a big surprise because the environment has always been a priority at the school.

“When you have a goal, and you work as a team to achieve that goal, it feels good when you achieve it,” Earl said. “The school district, staff and definitely the students were a huge part of it.”

Like Creekside, Issaquah Middle School also has a lunchtime waste-reduction plan. In fact, Macartney said, it was the second school in the district, after Issaquah Valley Elementary School, to start composting.

And it’s paid off. Where the school used to produce 24 cubic yards of garbage a week, it now is down to eight cubic yards. The school also saves water with the use of automatic flushing systems and a rainwater collection system. Rainwater that falls on the roof is collected and used in the school’s organic garden.

Macartney said he anticipates the district’s three remaining schools that do not compost will get on board in the coming academic year.

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