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Originally published: 2013-01-16 10:45:36
Last modified: 2013-01-16 10:53:54

WHS earns 'LEED Silver' certification

Now in its third year of operation, the new Watauga High School has earned LEED Silver certification.

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a voluntary certification that recognizes buildings constructed according to environmentally friendly principles. A building can earn standard certification or be recognized as “Silver,” “Gold” or “Platinum” based on the number of points it receives from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The achievement, officially secured Dec. 6, 2012, was formally presented Monday evening at the Board of Education meeting and represents a final stamp on the $79 million project.

“A lot of work went into Watauga High School, a lot of work has gone into the LEED registration, tracking, all of those things,” said Robbie Ferris, CEO of SfL+a architects, which designed the school. “It’s really a pretty special honor that you’re going to receive tonight.”

Planning for the new high school first began around 2004 and grew to involve a team of partners: SfL+a, Barnhill Contracting Company and Vannoy Construction, the Board of Education, county commissioners and staff, an ASU team that worked on the LEED measures, and others.

The school, situated on about 89 acres, includes an array of “green” features including a rainwater collection system used to flush toilets, a geothermal heating system located beneath the athletic fields and an orientation that allows it to make use of natural sunlight through large windows.

“All of these things work in combination to achieve that sustainable high school,” said Dan Robinson, a principal with SfL+a.

The final price tag on the three-story building was $79,738,389, County Manager Deron Geouque said. He said he expects the “green” features will save money over a traditional building in the long run.

“It was a long journey, but I think it’s a journey that I hope will pay dividends over the life expectancy of the school,” Geouque said.

So far, those savings are emerging slowly.

Dennis Ray, maintenance director for Watauga County Schools, said the school system did not see the savings it expected during the first year of operation. The second year of operation, a considerable drop in kilowatt-hours was achieved, he said.

“I think we’ll definitely this school year or fiscal year see most of the savings that we talked about,” Ray said. “Then, the 2013-14 school year, I think that’s when we’re going to optimize that building.”

The building continues to demand staff time. Over the winter break, a pump in the water collection system failed, so the school is not currently using rainwater for flushing, Ray said. The system, however, is equipped to change to using town of Boone water without even hitting a switch, he said.

Maintenance staff also had to work for some time after the opening in fall 2010 to better regulate the school temperatures.

“The day the school opened it was safe for occupancy,” Ray said. “We spent two years fine-tuning.”

And for maintenance employees, Watauga High School continues to do what schools are supposed to do: teach.

“All these systems are new to me and my guys, so the learning curve was very high,” Ray said, adding that the subcontractors have helped tremendously. “We’re a little slow in getting it fixed, because we’ve got to read the book each time.”

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