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Facility managers at schools who embrace their role as educators can try a number of topics and approaches, including spotlighting building performance, understanding the school's mission, and isolating sustainable issues most relevant to students.
While regularly reviewing building performance data may seem mundane, sharing performance-related patterns with the school community can be very influential. A static LEED screen will rarely command the same attention as a real-time web-based display, which links building performance to weather, building activity, and comfort. This information may inspire larger conversations among the school community about their own awareness of energy use, recycling policy, or climate change. Students could be challenged to connect their behaviors with environmental impacts, such as reduction in energy use. If a building is submetered to provide classroom-specific performance data, there could be a competition to see which class can minimize its energy use the most. It can also be helpful to translate these impacts into relatable results, such as equating how that energy savings had the same effect as planting 1,000 trees.
While technology can build excitement and interest in sustainability, it is worth remembering that the best lessons are often taught with small actions through the demonstration of daily building stewardship. A well-cared-for building is one that will endure. In many ways, a building that lasts is the most sustainable kind of building, regardless of its other green features. The embodied energy and social capital of a well-maintained facility are no small assets. Stated more simply, caring for a building communicates that the institution cares for things that matter.
By embracing the role of educator, facility managers become an important contributor to the educational goals of their institution. To achieve this, it is critical to understand the educational mission of your institution. For example, you may work for a school or a system that has a specialized curriculum for subjects like art and design, or math and science. It may have a religious affiliation or serve a unique demographic. By crafting a building-specific lesson that aligns with the school's educational goals and philosophies, the lesson will be more readily understood, celebrated, and integrated into future curricula and programming.
Another key approach is to consider which of the building's sustainable aspects most directly affect and engage students. This can be achieved in several ways. In the design of a recent building for the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Manhattan, students were introduced to the concept of a lighting budget, where spaces that did not require full illumination used fewer foot-candles than those requiring a high degree of visibility for athletic competition. Students now notice that hallways are not as brightly lit as the gym and pool, and they understand why. In this way, the building's lighting design is a visible and experiential concept that the students are aware of on a daily basis.
Stories about a school's value to the larger local community, which demonstrate values of citizenship and civic engagement, are also compelling. For example, an institution may have welcomed neighbors during a hurricane or power outage because of the building's capacity to store energy and keep everyone safe and dry. For institutions with a religious affiliation, the message of caring for both people and the planet can be especially important to share.
Overall, it is important to remember that the success of a building as a teaching tool depends upon proactive efforts by the whole design, construction, operations and maintenance, administration, and teaching community. By seeking out others within the larger team who are eager to leverage the building as an educational asset, operations and maintenance professionals will find valuable opportunities to partner. Collaborative and proactive efforts to teach lessons about a building will increase the likelihood that these initiatives become successful.
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