At the November 28th Northampton Board of Supervisors work session, the need for a new school complex was discussed. While the Board of Supervisors have begun to float a number of scenarios for funding, Chairmain Spencer Murry was quick to remind the Board that potential tax increases, the total cost of the new complex, how much will have to be spent to keep the existing complex in operation, the timeline for staging the new complex, as well as infrastructure needs are all in flux.
During the work session, Supervisor Bennett stated that the citizens need to understand that what is being considered is far more than a brick and mortar complex, and that new and modern schools are necessary to attract young families to move and invest here, to increase learning opportunities, and to be the driver and cornerstone of an economic revitalization.
Bennett is correct, and while funding and other issues may be unknown, the County still has the opportunity to create a design that will do the right thing for not only our students, but for the County and the Eastern Shore in general. Ultimately, the new school complex should be built to be carbon neutral, a place that not does not pollute the environment, but creates a process that continues to enhance and improve it.
Leveraging advanced engineering design principles, the complex could go carbon neutral by improving energy efficiency through insulation, double glazing, using low energy equipment and encouraging a strict “turn off policy”. The School should generate its own heat and power by installing solar panels (farm), geothermal wells and wind turbines.
As Andy Teeling has been saying for some time, the schools, students, government and business are uniquely entwined. Re-thinking the new school complex should involve a ‘whole-school’, ‘whole-community’ approach. Becoming carbon neutral should leverage those in the community that are passionate about the environment and that can help the students and faculty turn Northampton into a leader in sustainability and environmental education – the seed and driver for this should be the new school complex.
Environmental care and justice should be part of the entire educational learning spectrum, and be embedded in the school curriculum. A focus on sustainability themes in math and science, marine and estuarine research, and Earth and Environment studies could be part of the process. Providing qualifications and formal hands on experience in conservation through community service with the help of partners like the Nature Conservancy is another way to provide focus and momentum. Core to the process should be integrating the curriculum with aquaculture and sustainable agriculture, as well as environmental geospatial studies, geodesign and sustainable development practices, involving students in this holistically so that they can apply their learning in meaningful ways inside the school and outside in the community.
This effort will not be trivial, and will have to reflect a commitment and vision from the community at large. Managing data and conducting energy audits as well as accessing technical advice and support will also not be trivial.
As Supervisor Bennett noted, our investment in the school complex should be more than just brick and mortar, more than just another stop along life’s treadmill. It should be a self-actualized investment in the sustainable future of an environmentally, economically and socially sustainable Northampton County. Integrating carbon neutrality into an environmentally friendly design from the start will in the long run be cheaper and more efficient than attempting to retrofit the structure in the years ahead, when these measures will be officially mandated.