Green-ribbon Homecoming in Radnor
By: Mike Weilbacher
It was a homecoming for Michael Walsh. Now the Deputy Secretary for Administration in Pennsylvania’s Department of Education and a resident of Harrisburg, Mike moved to Strafford when he was 11, and is a product of first St. Katharine of Siena School in Wayne and then Radnor’s Archbishop Carroll High School. He was glowing, standing in the auditorium of Radnor Middle School on June 5 to present school and school-district dignitaries - along with the assembled seventh grade - the official Green Ribbon School banner that will soon hang in the school.
“We’re in a transformational moment right now. So much is going to change in the next 15 years” in the energy sector, he told them. “How we fuel cars when you all are grown up will be totally unlike how we fuel them today - you won’t be putting gas in them.” And he pointed out some of the middle school’s many transformational features that will soon be standard in new construction: green roofs, recycled materials (like flooring made from gorgeous recycled glass), low volatile paints, geothermal heating, and on and on. New buildings that are stingy with energy will be the norm.
For years, the Department of Education has offered schools blue-ribbon awards for academic excellence, and blue-ribbon posters proudly hang in school lobbies and above the front doors of schools nationwide. Last year, the department, in concert with the EPA, announced its search for green-ribbon schools, schools striving for environmental excellence - and 78 winners were crowned earlier this month in D.C., including RMS, the new state-of-the-art LEED-certified school in downtown Wayne.
In a telephone conversation earlier this week, Walsh elaborated on this transformational moment. “When Teddy Roosevelt was elected, there were 40 million acres of land set aside in preservation. When his presidency ended, that number stood at 260 million acres - he set aside a huge part of America, about 60,000 acres for every day of his presidency.
“Likewise, how we use energy will change,” he continued. “Technology has changed dramatically in just the last 15 years, and will keep changing. Just look at how dramatically different light bulbs are than 15 years ago. Or recycling. Twenty years ago, recycling was the big thing; you almost don’t have to teach that anymore - they get it.
“Look at HVAC,” he added, referring to heating and air conditioning, the guts (and often most expensive part) of large buildings. Pennsylvania’s 3,000 public schools spent $211 million on HVAC. That’s a lot of money, and schools increasingly realize they can change that. For example, there are apps for cell phones where you can walk into a room and adjust its heat, or light level - buildings are becoming teaching tools.”
Leo Bernabei, the self-effacing but brilliant Director of Operations for the school district, has been quietly and effectively transforming all of Radnor’s schools into green monsters. Radnor Elementary, for example, the first district building to go geothermal, saves something on the order of 40,000 gallons of fuel oil annually - with substantial implications for the district’s bottom line.
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