Green Is Imperative for the Future

A “green” school building is a high-performance structure with technologies that collect and reprocess energy, rainwater, and waste. It has green spaces and classrooms with enhanced acoustics and layout flexibility. Energy-efficient windows let in plenty of daylight, and electrical power requirements are supplemented by solar- and wind-generated energy sources.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings. The LEED for Schools Green Building Rating System, based on LEED for New Construction, addresses issues such as classroom acoustics, master planning, mold prevention, and environmental site assessment.
Financial Benefits from Green Schools Outweigh Costs 20 to 1
Green buildings cost only two percent more to build than conventional ones, and they provide substantial financial benefits, according a recent national study by research firm Capital E. Sponsored by the American Federation of Teachers, the American Institute of Architects, the American Lung Association, the Federation of American Scientists, and the U.S. Green Building Council; the 2006 report by Capital E is called “Greening America's Schools: Costs and Benefits.” The national study concludes that greening America’s schools would save $20B over the next 10 years from energy savings alone, along with improving student health and test scores.

Sometimes the issue is not whether to build a green school, but how to finance the construction of a new school building. Fortunately, there are some innovative financing solutions to consider, which have been made possible through recent legislation in North Carolina.
Innovative Financing for New Public School Facilities
In 2006, North Carolina passed Senate Bill 2009, an “Act to Allow Capital Lease Financing for Public Schools.”  Through the act, the General Assembly provides public construction flexibility under a Public-Private Partnership (PPP), in which the private sector partner assumes the risk of its capital and resources to build the school(s).

The public school system negotiates with the developer to build a public school facility in accordance with designs and standards set up by the school district or state. The developer can then lease the facility back to the school system under a long-term arrangement at a predetermined rent. Sometimes called “construct-leaseback,” this type of PPP allows school districts to work with the private sector to build new schools without issuing bonds or requiring state contribution. The developer is responsible for the physical structure of the public school, while the school system controls curricula and any requirements that pertain to the educational process.

Capital-lease financing, a specific form of PPP, involves a contract between a developer and a school system to lease a building for a period of time, up to 40 years, at the end of which the school system takes ownership of the building. The legislation allows for a variety of operational components, such as maintenance and energy management, to be a part of the capital lease. Maintenance and repairs are therefore undertaken when the need arises, instead of waiting for the next bond issue to pass.
Benefits of Capital Lease Financing

1.    Cost Benefits.
With capital-lease financing, school systems enjoy savings that they could not possibly have had with a traditional debt financing (bonds, loans) approach. Because the developer can build a highly efficient building and take advantage of volume purchasing, operations, and maintenance and replacement reserves built into the lease payment, a significant savings on operating cost is made possible. Cost savings are derived from the construction of high-performance buildings with state-of-the-art technologies in energy, water, and waste management.

2.    Elimination of Risks for the School System.
A capital-lease arrangement between a developer and a school board eliminates significant construction risk and potential litigation for the school system.

3.    Just-in-Time Schools.
A PPP allows school systems to bring brand new school facilities into existence just in time to meet the needs of families moving into a newly developed community without having to issue local government bonds.

4.    Multiple Uses of Facilities.
The facility is owned by the developer and leased to the school system. The school has access to the facility at all times, and other agencies such as community groups, nonprofits, and churches contract with the school system for use of the building.

School staff, architects, contractors, and others must work together in a collaborative process to build high-performance green buildings that communities can use for multiple purposes. Public-private partnerships can yield major benefits, drastically reduce the time required from concept to completion, and save the public significant amounts of money.

Robbie Ferris is president and CEO of SFL + a Architects and Firstfloor K-12 Solutions, LLC.  With offices in Raleigh, Charlotte, and Fayetteville North Carolina, SFL + a Architects offers architectural planning, design, construction, land planning, and interior design services. Founded in 1982, the company has focused on sustainable projects for several decades. For more information, visit