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Mar 182009

Photo: Global Green USA
Global Green upgrades will save the International School of Louisiana an estimated $21,781 in utility costs and reduce the carbon emissions by 177,109 pounds annually.

By Shermakaye Bass
Green Right Now

In late summer 2005, the city of New Orleans suffered a horrific blow when Hurricane Katrina howled in from the Gulf of Mexico, inundating the 300-year-old city and severely crippling its infrastructure and its collective psyche. But if anything positive surfaced after Katrina, it’s that the storm gave New Orleans an opportunity to go green.

Crescent City transplant Brad Pitt has taken a high-profile role in rebuilding the poorest parts of the city, with a focus on energy efficient, eco-friendly affordable housing. And Global Green USA, an offshoot of Mikhail Gorbachev’s non-profit Green Cross International, also has made headlines with green reconstruction of devastated districts such as the Ninth Ward’s Holy Cross neighborhood.

Less known is the fact that post-Katrina NOLA has positioned itself to become one of the country’s national leaders in terms of green school construction – both in retrofitting old ones and building new ones. Turning rot and ruin into hope and rebirth, organizations like Global Green (GG) and the Clinton Climate Initiative are helping locals change the landscape of public education, one “brick” at a time.

The city is updating, retrofitting, renovating or constructing from scratch more than 25 public schools. Currently, at least ten are in varied stages of greenification in the city’s Recovery School District (RSD) and the Orleans Parish School District (ORSD), and several more have been tagged for major renovation or ground-up construction.

Many are getting a kick start from Global Green’s Green Seeds Schools Initiative – which offers $75,000 grants for retrofitting – such as A.P. Tureaud Elementary (pictured), circa 1939; Dr. Martin Luther King Elementary; and the recently relocated International School of Louisiana. Two others will be part of the nonprofit’s Model Green Schools program receiving around $300,000 each: Andrew H. Wilson Elementary, built in 1928, will be a major renovation project, and another new school will be started from scratch.

Five others in the Recovery and Orleans parish districts are currently either under renovation or are in the design stages, says Lona Hankins, director of capital improvements for RSD. They are: Langston Hughes Elementary, Lord Beacon Landry High School, Greater Gentilly High School, Fannie C. Williams Middle School and Edward Hynes Elementary.

“The goal for all new schools and major renovations is to achieve LEED Silver certification,” says Hankins. “The master plan is, over the next four or five years, to have completed 20-plus projects. Global Green is assisting, but we also have a wonderful relationship with the U.S. Department of Energy (grants). … However, most of our funding is coming from FEMA, the U.S. Green Building Council and the Clinton Climate Initiative. There also will be a relationship with Global Green going forward, as it relates to (adding solar power) the schools.”

As it all comes together, New Orleans should emerge with a network of new and refurbished schools that  use 30 percent less energy.