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Cool Schools at Helman Elementary in Ashland (April 11, 2011)

I’m glad to be in Ashland today, seeing the great innovations happening at Helman Elementary. I want to thank you all – teachers, administrators and students – for showing me around and having me here.

From the solar array that will soon be installed on your library roof to the interactive display that will give students real-time data about the electricity it helps produce, Helman is clearly at the forefront of using renewable energy technology to help prepare our children for the opportunities and challenges that will define the 21st century.

And these kinds of improvements won’t just help educate Helman’s students about clean energy; they will also help make your school a better place for you to learn.

That’s because our school buildings across the state are getting old –Holman’s nearly 40! – and too many of them are showing their age: Leaky roofs and windows can breed mold issues that trigger asthma in students, teachers, and other school staff. Boilers from the 1930s do a poor job of heating these large buildings efficiently, so money that could be used to buy computers for the classroom or pay teachers salaries needs to be diverted to utility bills – a particularly hard pill to swallow when there are especially cold winters and long, wet springs.

And these problems won’t just go away: utility bills are schools’ second biggest budget item – and they are growing 20 percent every biennium! It is unsustainable, for our state economy and the environment, and that’s why we need to do something about it.

And that’s where Cool Schools come in.

Imagine with me, if you will, a second grader in an aging school. He’s having trouble reading in the low light of his classroom, affecting his overall proficiency.

Add to this the fact that his teacher, a 10-year veteran at the school, suffers from asthma, as a result of working in an unhealthy building for so many years.

And then there’s the school administrator, who finds himself in a constant struggle about what to do with his limited dollars. He wants to put more resources in the classroom, but is instead forced to pay for extra heating because it’s been an especially cold winter.

Across town is a builder whose contracting firm is struggling to stay afloat during these difficult economic times.

By making modest investments to upgrade the building’s efficiency – which includes everything from better lighting to replacing old boilers with newer ones that use local woody bio-mass – we can make a real difference in all these people’s lives. With better lighting and cleaner air, the second grader’s focus and comprehension soars – and his test scores go up by 4 percent. His teacher’s asthma improves – and so does her teaching performance. And the school administrator, having increased water and energy efficiency by more than 30 percent, is no longer feeling squeezed by the utility bill and is putting more funds into the classroom. And you know what makes this even better? The local builder was selected to install the latest boiler technology and will attain the skills to make her a local leader in her field.

But these improvements are not just theoretical. In 2005, the state of Washington saw absenteeism drop by 15 percent in schools that made efficiency upgrades. They also saw test scores jump an impressive 5 percent. And, improved indoor air quality reduces the incidence of flu by 51 percent, according to a Carnegie Mellon University study.

Schools that have already done energy efficiency upgrades have saved 35 percent annually – which makes a big difference in the number of books or computers they can purchase for their students.

Finally, studies show that for every $1 million we invest in energy efficiency upgrades, we create as many as 15 good, family-wage jobs. That translates into a lot of workers on the job again, helping to support their families and revive Oregon’s economy, through the Cool Schools initiative.

What makes Cool Schools so important at this moment is that it’s a triple-bottom-line effort: A jobs program that will put people back to work; an education initiative that will put money back in the class room; and a health initiative that creates a healthy place for Oregonians to teach and learn.

  • Putting Oregonians back to work.

Cool Schools will provide good green jobs for Oregonians in every county of the state. First, certified energy auditors will conduct audits and evaluations of school buildings to figure out where we can find cost-effective, high-impact efficiency upgrades. Then, contractors, construction workers, and energy performance specialists will get to work fixings roofs, putting in insulation, and installing upgraded heating and cooling equipment.

  • Putting money back in the classroom.

Investing in energy efficient public buildings will save the state and schools money. In fact, a comprehensive analysis of the financial costs and benefits of green building, found that a minimal upfront investment of about 2% of construction costs typically yields life cycle savings of over ten times the initial investment. That’s quite a return on investment for our state –and our classrooms.

  • Creating a healthy place to learn. 

High levels of carbon dioxide in the air lead to lethargy and attention problems. Mold leads to asthma. Yet every day our children, teachers, and school staff are at school, they are grappling with these conditions. We know that upgrading school buildings can minimize their exposure to these kind of harmful substances and improve our students’ and our teachers’ work.

I’m very excited to launch our Cool Schools Initiative here in Ashland, right here in Oregon’s very first Cool School, Helman Elementary. 

Just before I walked into this room, I got to witness the Oregon Department of Energy conduct a sample energy audit of this school using wireless tablets to collect standardized data about the building’s shell, lighting, and HVAC system and uploading it to a central server. This data will be professionally analyzed and Helman will get a detailed report on the most cost-efficient and effective improvements you can make. Over the next few months about 500 schools across the state will get one.

We’re already taking steps to get some immediate funding for capital improvements. We have access to $39 million to begin energy efficiency upgrades of schools this summer through Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds so that we can get people back to work quickly in communities that are strategically located and have schools that already have comprehensive retrofits plans and can replace inefficient heating systems with high efficiency biomass boilers, among other things.

And once we pass HB 2960, we will be able to ramp up this effort across the state.

Cool Schools is so important to Oregon’s economy and our ability to educate our kids that we plan to give a flag to every school that goes through a Cool Schools upgrade. This flag will not only recognize the school’s pioneering efforts, but it will also give students pride in what their school is doing, and provide a clear sign for the community that their school is a high-performing one, improving their children’s health -- and their ability to learn.

Today, I’m proud to present the very first Cool Schools flag to Helman Elementary.

Cool Schools, along with our plans to transform education and health care delivery in Oregon, is absolutely essential to our long term economic recovery; essential to building the workforce of the 21st century; and essential to a prosperous and sustainable future. I want to thank you for the great work you are doing and the inspiring example you are setting for the great things Oregon can do.



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