RUSKIN — Third-grade teacher David Jorden has never worked at a school quite like J. Vince Thompson Elementary.
“I like that it’s spacious, airy, big, but simple,” said Jorden, who has been teaching for 10 years. “It’s technologically advanced, and all the rooms are air-conditioned.”
What sets Thompson apart from the school district’s other 200-plus schools is that it is the first Hillsborough County public school campus to receive a distinction known as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design — or LEED — a certification given to buildings that are designed to save energy, water and money.
Thompson joins the more than 3,000 schools across the country with the certification, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. More than 100 of them are in Florida.
On average, these campuses use 33 percent less energy and 32 percent less water than regular school buildings.
The council says green schools save about $100,000 a year in direct operating costs.
The district spent about $18 million building and furnishing the school at 2020 E. Shell Point Road in Ruskin, next to Lennard High School and Hillsborough Community College’s South Shore campus.
The windows are positioned so they only face north or south, allowing sunlight but not heat to flood through.
❖ ❖ ❖
Students will notice waterless urinals in the bathrooms. Carpet tiles were laid in each classroom, making for easy maintenance.
The dyed concrete in the school’s hallways requires no wax or stripping chemicals.
In addition to running a more energy-efficient school, teachers will be able to use the building as a teaching tool for educating students about the environment, Principal Milady Astacio said.
“Part of the goal is to help the kids learn how the environment works and how they can preserve it,” she said. “The idea is to really educate the kids. The school is built to help us do that.”
One of the best parts, Astacio said, is six outdoor “classrooms,” one for each grade, where students will create and maintain their own gardens.
The school also has a heavy technology focus. The Media Center is equipped with 44 computers, and there are more in a “high-stakes” computer lab. Each classroom has 12 desktop computers for students, and each teacher has a tablet.
Jorden plans to give his students ample opportunity to fine-tune their typing skills to get ready to take tests on computers.
State to state, LEED schools do not look exactly the same or have the same features. Many of the differences depend on which part of the country the school is in and what the climate is like there.
“What’s important to a school in Florida might be different than a school in northern California or Arizona,” said Nate Allen, who leads advocacy efforts for the Center for Green Schools, a nonprofit in Washington D.C. “It’s hard to generalize nationally what makes a LEED school what it is.”
Supporters of the green schools movement say research shows those designed with the environment and the health of students and faculty in mind have a positive impact on academic performance.
❖ ❖ ❖
“It’s a better space to learn,” Allen said. “It’s immediately a more comfortable space to be in with natural lighting and air that doesn’t have that new-school smell. There’s a lot of moving pieces, but one thing that is for sure is where our children learn matters.”
Thompson, which opened Tuesday to accommodate population growth in the South Shore area, is the district’s first new school in five years. It draws its enrollment from the attendance zones for Ruskin and Cypress Creek elementary schools and has the capacity to serve about 940 students.
Chris Farkas, Hillsborough’s chief facilities officer, said future district schools also will be designed to meet LEED standards.