Desert Edge High School
Treating green like gold in Arizona
By Jean Stevens
Bob Rossi, principal of Desert Edge High School in Goodyear, Arizona, knows a secret to getting well-behaved students, zero graffiti and no trash: make the school green.
Students take great pride in Desert Edge, which is a leader in the green school movement and the fifth school worldwide to earn the U.S. Green Building Council's "Silver LEED" (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating. Even though the building is seven years old, the students still treat it like gold. "We get comments all the time from visitors, saying ‘it looks brand new,'" Rossi said.
When Goodyear's population exploded eight years ago and the town needed a new high school, the district’s assistant superintendent of operations, John Schmadeke, researched local architectural firms and realized a green school would cost nearly the same as a traditional school. It would save money in the long run, too, by reducing energy costs.
Desert Edge was built in two stages on a sustainable site and it used 18% recycled materials and one-third locally produced materials. Motion sensors and other technologies were installed, along with other energy-gobbling features to cut costs, saving the school about $58,000 annually, 30% of what it would spend on traditional power. Windows maximize the natural sunlight, and waterless urinals and low-flow plumbing save more than 1 million gallons of water each year.
In most Arizona schools, hallways are outside and each classroom is its own small building with a door leading outside, Rossi said, but all rooms in Desert Edge are enclosed in one building, like a mall. This eliminates the need to cool individual buildings separately. Native plants outside require less water and help capture run-off, and bike stalls and car pool spaces encourage students to burn less fuel. To learn all about the features of their school, students and visitors can check out the interactive kiosk installed in the lobby.
Though Desert Edge has won accolades for its infrastructure, including the 2002 American School and University Architectural Portfolio and Outstanding Building Award, the school's holistic approach has turned inward. The school implemented a "check-in" session twice a week with all students—teachers sit down with a small group of children to discuss their lives, issues and concerns. This helps teachers feel a greater connection with students, Rossi said, and it's even improved their teaching. "Being a green school has really taught [the kids] that this is how we take care of our community," Rossi said. "It's had a ripple effect."