GCPS Facilities and Operations

GCPS Facilities and Operations

GCPS reinforces a culture of environmental stewardship
through building program, operational practices

 “We do not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We borrow it from our children.” ~Native American Proverb

Gwinnett County Public Schools (GCPS) is doing its part to make this little corner of the Earth more livable for our children and, one day, for their children… a greener Gwinnett where we can all breathe a little easier and enjoy a cleaner, healthier community.

“Careful, responsible, and sustainable management of our natural resources is everyone’s responsibility. The school system strives to set a good example for the community,” says Jim Steele, GCPS’ chief operations officer. “Like a quality education, environmental stewardship is an important a legacy for our children. The Earth and its natural resources do not belong to us; we are only borrowing them from future generations.”

GCPS is a leader in environmentally friendly operational practices, recognized with local, state, and even national awards, but the rewards don’t stop there. By going “green” whenever possible and looking for innovative ways to be eco-friendly, GCPS has earned a reputation as a good steward of both its financial and environmental resources, with savings for taxpayers and a more livable community for its citizens.

When it comes to central maintenance and operations, even small measures applied across a big organization can have an impact in efficiency, reduce environmental impact, and put some “green” to the bottom line. Here are some “green” highlights from among operational practices of the GCPS’ Facilities and Operations (F&O) Division…

We’re green…
In Site Preparation, Construction, and Landscaping …
  • Even before GCPS turns the first spade of soil, new school sites already are “green.” A two-year partnership with the Georgia Native Plant Society has resulted in more than 6,000 plants being saved from 25 building sites to date.
  • The system also transplants trees and shrubs from building sites, saving the trees, but also landscaping costs.
  • Energy-efficient building designs (for instance, minimizing exterior wall and roof areas) and energy management controls keep utility costs well below regional averages at a savings of $13 million per year.
  • Occupancy sensors are part of GCPS’ energy-efficient lighting systems.
  • Locally available materials are used in construction to minimize transportation needs.
  • In a pilot, waterless urinals are in use in two new schools. (Think 1.5 gallons per flush versus a hygienic gelled cartridge and containment system with no water pipes.)
  • Some 3,000 acres in low-maintenance turf and low-water xeriscaping translates to $1.4 million in reduced irrigation needs.
  • Storm-water retention ponds are used to irrigate high school sports fields.
  • Porcelain tile floors in corridors and dining areas eliminate the need to strip and wax floors.
  • GCPS uses proven, long-lasting, low-maintenance materials, such as 4-ply built-up roof systems, concrete block walls, brick, etc. Savings in both maintenance and replacement costs are the result.

In Central Maintenance and Operations …
  • Decentralized maintenance shops, placed strategically around the county, operate closer to the schools they serve, reducing mileage and response time.
  • Vehicles are refueled in the cool of the day to reduce vapors.
  • Electric, not gas-powered, tools are in use, and crews avoid mowing and painting on smog-alert days. GCPS painters use hand rollers or brushes instead of paint sprayers.
  • Integrated pest management (IPM) is people - and environment - friendly and very effective. The IPM program uses current, comprehensive information on the life cycles of pests and their interaction with the environment. This information, in combination with available pest control methods, is used to manage pests by the most economical means with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) considers GCPS a model for others. Through participation in the EPA Waste Wise program, GCPS shares its best practices with other school systems, including programs like the annual chemical pickup from school science labs, the use of “green” art supplies, and Gwinnett’s Integrated Pest Management system.

In Local School Practices…
  • GCPS’ 830 custodians use green practices learned in GCPS’ Custodial Academy. Backpack vacuums are green-seal certified. A cleaning chemical dispensing system meters usage for proper dilution. Most chemical used in GCPS’ custodial program have low- to zero-hazard ratings. Those projects that use more caustic chemicals are left for summer when fewer staff and students are in the buildings. The school system is testing “green” cleaning supplies for future use.
  • Middle and high schools are phasing in compactors to replace dumpsters. Pressure gauges indicate when the self-contained units are ready for pick-up, reducing the cost and number of hauls to the landfill as compared to the five-day-a-week pickup schedule for dumpsters. (With fewer students, most elementary schools do not produce enough waste to make the practice cost-effective for that level.)
  • Each school has an environmental liaison who coordinates environmental education and projects and is responsible for completing the school’s Environmental Profile. (Profiles are used to determine winners of the Environmental Achievement Awards, which recognize a school’s environmental efforts in seven key areas.) At a recent kick-off meeting at the Gwinnett Environmental & Heritage Center, nearly 150 teachers and administrators participated in sessions with Gwinnett Clean & Beautiful.  
In Transportation and Vehicle Maintenance:
  • F&O has been a Clean Air Campaign partner for nine years and remains committed to implementing smog-reducing practices. This fall, GCPS began promoting commute alternatives for all staff, including carpooling and mass transit.
  • GCPS was the first school system to use low-emissions diesel-powered buses, with about two-thirds (1,100 units) of today’s fleet using the emissions-reducing engines. Ultra-low sulphur diesel fuel is used for all GCPS buses, a move made months before national requirements.  
  • Preventive maintenance ensures that vehicles run optimally and produce lowest possible emissions.
  • With more than 1,500 buses and another 400 vehicles, regular maintenance means a lot of old oil filters. A filter crusher drains 95% of excess oil and sludge from filter elements, leaving only non-hazardous waste and crushing the filter to just a quarter or less of its original size.
  • Those familiar yellow buses stay clean using recycled water and less soap in GCPS’ Green Bus Wash.
  • Recycled tires are chipped into pellets for use as alternate paving material in lots and driveways. GCPS also recycles batteries with a vendor.
  • Efficient routing for both buses and delivery trucks cuts down on waste, and idling is kept to a minimum.
  • Bus lots are geographically located around the county, reducing drive time and mileage.
  • A full bus is exponentially more efficient than individual cars. More than three-quarters of Gwinnett students take the bus, thanks in part to continued efforts to promote bus ridership. GCPS is the fourth largest student transporter in the U.S.

“Part of being green is the continuous improvement of doing something today that’s a little greener than yesterday,” says Brad Coury, director of Environmental and Supply Services. With that in mind, know that these are just a few green practices today and more are on the way.

Thanks and kudos to these GCPS staff members who helped gather information for GCPS Green stories in the fall 2007 issue of Communiqué and on the web site: Barbi Ibele, environmental specialist; Brad Coury, director of Environmental and Supply Services; architect Terry Gladden, director of Facility Planning; engineer Craig Woodrow, director of Building Maintenance; along with the staff of the Facilities and Operations division, led by Jim Steele.