Milton school building will be gold standard of green

District officials say energy-efficient systems will save taxpayers money.

Not only do the Dohrmans recycle aluminum cans, paper and cardboard at their Williams Drive home, they reuse the wax paper bags in cereal boxes to cover food dishes in the microwave. They’ve also constructed a 300-gallon rain harvesting system for watering their lawn and gardens, and they’re planning this year to build an organic compost garden in their backyard.

So it’s no surprise Kim and Donald Dohrman are elated over the new Milton-Union School that’s about to be built on Milton-Potsdam Road.

When it’s finished in 2012, the school for 1,700 students in kindergarten through 12th grade will harness energy from the sun, wind and rain to help fuel its 216,000-square-foot structure. Located on 17 acres, the two-story school will boast a 120-foot wind turbine, a solar thermal system, rainwater harvester, other “advanced energy efficiency applications” and an energy awareness and education program for students and the community.

“I think all the kids and the parents in the community are excited about the school construction in general. What I’m excited about is that they’re putting that sense of respect for the planet to the forefront,” said Kim Dohrman, whose children, Sydney, 10, and Cody, 7, attend Milton-Union Elementary School.

Going green

School district Treasurer Charles Klein acknowledged that, with a price tag of around $42 million, the school could be built for less with fewer green applications. “We’re paying up front,” he said, “but we’re going to obviously be saving on energy bills.”

Preliminary estimates show the district saving $136,325 a year in energy bills, or $3.4 million over the next 25 years in today’s dollars.

Many new buildings today incorporate “green” elements in their design, but it’s required for new schools that were approved for funding from the Ohio School Facilities Commission after 2007. The schools must meet at least LEED silver certification, the third highest in a progressive rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.)

For schools, the rating system is designed to improve children’s health, productivity and learning capacity while also making school buildings more energy efficient and resource friendly. Milton-Union’s new school will be gold certified, according to OSFC.

Talk of the town

Known for its rolling hills, Stillwater River and rich farmland, this sleepy village of nearly 5,000 residents in southern Miami County hasn’t seen new school construction — indeed any sizable construction — since 1970 when the school district added to its then 20-year-old elementary school.

Asked if residents are excited about the project, Mayor Raymond Moore replied, “That’s putting it mildly.”

Voters approved a 1.25 percent income tax levy in November 2008 to help fund the new school. The state, using tobacco lawsuit settlement money, is picking up the bulk of the tab, 56 percent. The school district also plans to borrow around $1 million from the Ohio Department of Development’s Office of Energy Efficiency under the House Bill 264 program, which is named for the 23-year-old legislation that created it.

The program allows school districts to make energy efficiency improvements to their buildings and use the cost savings to pay for those improvements over 15 years. The program has helped fund numerous renovation projects over the years, but the Milton-Union school marks the first time it’s been used for new construction, thanks to recent changes in the law, said Mark Wantage, who administers the HB 264 program for OSFC.

Wantage said Milton-Union is also unique in the extent to which the district has embraced the state’s goals for LEED and “building effective buildings for learning.”

“They’re looking to make their facility more efficient, but their intention also is to incorporate the building as a learning tool,” Wantage said. “That is something that’s talked about a lot, but unfortunately it’s not really engaged as much as we’d like to see it engaged.”

The school, for instance, will house energy management monitors in four wings of the building, allowing location-specific adjustments. School leaders hope to integrate the feature into the curriculum, using it to create student competitions to see which wing — elementary, middle or high school — can be most efficient.

Build the best

Superintendent Virginia Rammel said the district’s vision for a new school didn’t begin with what might become, at least for now, the greenest school in the Dayton area.

“Our two goals were, No. 1, build the best K-12 complex we could possibly build, and secondly, be as transparent as we possibly can through the process. We want the people to know what we’re doing and we want their feedback,” Rammel said.

Most residents have been enthusiastic, embracing the design and the possibilities it creates, she said.

“This is just a great place to live and learn, a lot of great teachers, a lot of great families,” Rammel said. “We want this to rejuvenate everybody and make everybody feel good and feel proud to be part of Milton-Union schools.”

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