Manteca Schools Go Green against All Odds
By Mitchell Clute
In 2009, when the recession hit, school districts coast to coast felt the pinch. But one district in Manteca, California—a small city in the ag-heavy Central Valley, east of San Francisco—didn’t hold a bake sale; it teamed up with local businesses and community groups to map out a new, green vision of the future. The solutions included building an energy-independent LEED Gold Standard facility that shows students the energy systems working in real time via wall-mounted iPads in each class.
“When the economy went south, we knew we needed to save money,” says Manteca Unified School District Superintendent Jason Messer. “Our board wanted to save 10 percent on energy costs, but we knew we’d need help to realize the cost savings. That’s when we turned to LOGIC—our Leadership on Green Initiatives Committee.”
Made up of both school representatives and community partners, LOGIC put forth a vision involving green, modular classrooms and solar-power installations to help cut costs and provide new opportunities for environmental education. The committee pursued savings by addition—in the form of a new environmental education building and a $30 million investment in solar energy for the district. “We’ve installed solar at every site in the district, and all with a zero percent loan; so we’ve been conservative stewards of the community’s dollars,” Messer explains.
A Modular Masterpiece
The environmental education building, centerpiece of the district’s sustainability efforts, is located on the administrative campus but backs to a forty-acre working farm. Called Gen7, this type of building is part of a new line of environmentally friendly modular classrooms built locally by American Modular Systems of Manteca.
“This was a unique project,” says Maggie Howland, American Modular’s director of marketing. “The school district required a LEED Gold-certified building and zero net energy, meaning that the building produces as much energy as it consumes over the course of the year.”
The building’s parking lot is covered by solar installations, and the site also features a wind tower to generate additional electricity. The structure is used for a variety of purposes, including teacher trainings, community events and field trips, and as a base for environmental education curriculum.
“The building features educational plaques inside, explaining the recycled and low-VOC materials, natural daylight and sustainable features that make it a LEED building,” Howland continues, “and each classroom has a wall-mounted iPad that shows how much energy the building is producing and provides information for teachers and students on the fundamentals of green design.”
Though planning for the facility was a painstaking process, its modular construction made assembly a snap. With the foundation already laid and the building components delivered with solar panels in place, construction began at 9:00 a.m. and was complete by noon.
The Future Is Now
Manteca Unified School District plans to erect more of the modular buildings with some of a recently passed $159 million bond.
However, the biggest benefit of all these initiatives—not only the environmental education building but the focus on conservation and renewable resources—is that they provide a ready-made forum for hands-on learning and discussion.
“I think it’s important that kids are aware of the world they live in,” Messer tells Calmful Living. “For example, there’s a debate both locally and nationally on the impact of agriculture on environmental issues, and kids hear that debate but they don’t necessarily engage in their own cognitive development about what they should independently think. Likewise, water use is a big issue here in California, and that’s why the education portion is so important to students—so they know what resources are available or restricted in the area.”
The green Gen7 classrooms also fit with the district’s twin goals of saving money and reducing environmental impact. “Many of the older classrooms have a twenty-year lifespan and are not environmentally friendly,” Messer points out, “but the new buildings last fifty years, cost less to keep up and are made of recycled products.” And the retired portables have already found a new use—as a faux streetscape for the district’s vocational training programs.
In Messer’s view, it wouldn’t make much sense to focus on environmental issues in the school curriculum without a corresponding commitment to wise use of resources. “We need to model what we’re expecting students to learn,” he says. “Reduce, reuse, recycle: We reduce the demand for energy, ensure that the things we use have a longer shelf life, and recycle things when they’ve reached the end of their cycle.”
By mapping out a vision that involved the whole community, Manteca has managed to use present challenges as a springboard to a greener future.
Learn more about the Manteca Unified School District project here.