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McCandless school honored for offering 'green' curriculum

| Monday, April 23, 2012, 9:02 p.m.
Philip G. Pavely
A.W. Beattie Career Center senior Nathan Lish of Hampton discusses how a solar thermal trainer is used in his HVAC class in McCandless on Monday, April 23, 2012. The president has recognized the school for making strides in environmental education. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Philip G. Pavely
A.W. Beattie Career Center senior Dan Ostronic of Franklin Park discusses how a solar thermal trainer is used in his HVAC class in McCandless on Monday, April 23, 2012. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review
Philip G. Pavely
Instructor Pat Ciccone discusses the green aspects of the auto body paint shop at A.W. Beattie Career Center in McCandless on Monday, April 23, 2012. Philip G. Pavely | Tribune-Review

The parking lot placards that reserve spots for "low emitting fuel-efficient vehicles" are the first indication there's something a little different going on at the A.W. Beattie Career Center.

The career preparatory high school in McCandless was among 78 schools nationwide recognized on Monday with the U.S. Department of Education's first Green Ribbon awards. The awards recognized schools for their work in crafting a comprehensive approach to sustainability and environmental awareness in the classroom and in the operation of school facilities.

"It's a tremendous honor," said Eric C. Heasley, the school's acting executive director.

Heasley said the school, which provides career training to 625 high school students from nine northern Allegheny County school districts, made sustainability a central part of its mission after a $20 million renovation project last year.

The project, completed $3 million under budget and ahead of schedule, netted the 48-year-old school a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Gold is the second-highest certification behind platinum.

School officials are calculating savings already.

"We've seen a 21 percent reduction in solid waste, a 7.6 percent reduction in nontransportation energy consumption and an 11 percent reduction in water consumption" since the building opened, Heasley said.

Melissa M. Bilec, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Pittsburgh, said investments in green technologies typically add from zero to 5 percent to a building project. But energy savings quickly cancel out those costs, she said.

"The payback periods are really short for green buildings. Hopefully, that will translate into more resources for the students," said Bilec, who is assistant director for outreach and education at Pitt's Mascaro Center for Sustainability and Innovation.

Students are tapping the green technologies the school added in career programs such as HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) and construction technology.

"We wanted to make sure we were offering 21st century skills so our students would be successful in the marketplace," Heasley said.

Dan Ostronic, 18, of Franklin Park, a senior in Beattie's HVAC program, is among the students who have worked on the school's solar thermal trainer, a pair of solar panels that use water to store heat from the sun. Although Ostronic, who also works full time at Hampton Mechanical, has yet to tap his solar-power skills, he looks at them as an asset.

"It's saving the environment and cutting down costs," Ostronic said.

Nancy Sutley, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, lauded the Green Ribbon schools in a statement.

"Schools that take a green approach cut costs on their utility bills, foster healthy and productive classrooms and prepare students to thrive in the 21st century economy," Sutley said.

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