A ban on cars. A moratorium on fossil fuels. A bus that runs on cafeteria burger grease.
These are among the many projects in discussion or already under way at Island schools seeking to lead environmental action on the Vineyard.
With support from private donors, West Tibsury’s green-minded design and building firm South Mountain Company is managing two such projects: to eliminate fossil fuel consumption at Chilmark elementary school and to construct a highly visible solar energy producer for the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.
At the same time there is a concerted effort among some high school faculty and committee members to increase the educational emphasis on renewable energy and establish the high school as a community leader for green initiatives.
Among Island municipal buildings, the high school has one of the largest carbon footprints. High school principal Margaret (Peg) Regan estimates that between 200 and 250 of the 765-student body, on top of 120 teaching, custodial and secretarial staff, drive to and from school every day. Then, for at least eight hours of the day, the school is in full use.
High school committee member Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter pointed to this conspicuous consumption at last week’s meeting, putting forward a radical solution:
“We need to forbid kids from driving to school,” he said. “It wouldn’t be the most popular decision the school committee makes, but it will provide a leadership example within in the community and quite possibly in the country.”
Committee member Leslie Baynes argued it shouldn’t be restricted to students. “We ought to take it to the faculty too,” he said, “We shouldn’t ask the kids to do what we wouldn’t do ourselves.”
Ms. Regan warned against making a top-down decision. “We don’t want to do this by banning. We want to reduce the carbon footprint of the school but we’re trying to make it grassroots,” she said.
Ms. Regan made it clear, however, that some form of Mr. Manter’s proposal is under consideration.
“We want to make it part of the curriculum — to involve the science, math, statistics and leadership courses. They can work out how much gas we’re burning,” she said, adding for the record that she drives a 2000 Lexus seven miles a day, to and from the school.
Meanwhile Bill Seaborn, building trades teacher in his third year at the high school, is working with students to convert the class bus to run on biodiesel. The vocational vehicle, which is used for trips to Hinckley’s lumber yard and to job sites, currently runs on diesel.
“Basically the deal is, we’re taking the grease from the cafeteria kitchen,” said Mr. Seaborn earlier this week, “and mixing it with some methanol.”
Mr. Seaborn has teamed up with physics teacher Dana Munn for the project. “We wanted to do something that was cross-curriculum,” he said. “Some pH-balance work needs to be done on getting the engine mix right so they’re going to do that. It’s a nice idea.”
The new fuel will be a four-to-one mixture of any cooking oil and methanol; it will run alongside a reserve tank of diesel, Mr. Seaborn explained. A 50-gallon drum of methanol is on order and due to arrive next month.
“When it gets too cold, the fuel loses the right viscosity and the engine will switch to diesel,” he said. He expects some trial and error in finding out how efficient the truck will be in this environment.
“It’s something we haven’t messed with yet,” he said.
Mr. Munn presented the project to the high school committee last Monday. At the meeting, Mr. Baynes did the sums and added his fiscally minded praise: “Saves $600 a year,” he said. “That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?”
A move that stands to save the school around $3,000 a year in energy cost, John Abrams, president of South Mountain Company, presented the high school committee with a sketch which envisioned a three-car shelter, topped by solar panels, to be situated front and centre of the high school car park. South Mountain prepared the plans using a fund provided by Oak Bluffs resident Madeleine Heath.
Mr. Abrams said the annual energy output from the proposed shelter, which would also provide power outlets for electric cars, is equivalent to the 10 KWH windmill at the back of the high school which produces the energy required to power two small homes. He added that, as a modular construction, the shelter could be expanded to to cover all the car space over time. According to Mr. Abrams’s calculations, sheltering the entire car park with solar would cover up to half of the high school’s total energy needs.
Mr. Abrams told the committee that Mrs. Heath had come to South Mountain with a wide brief, evidently sharing the goals of the out-going principal: “She was looking for something educational and that capitalizes on the high school’s role as a community leader,” he said.
The committee raised safety concerns. John Bacheller worried that the solar panels could be broken or the shelter otherwise vandalized.
Several members suggested that the solar panel shelter could be positioned outside the cafeteria area to act as a social area for the students.
Mr. Abrams: “The car park shelter has a broad application. There are so many parking lots — on the Island and all over. But we were taken by the pavilion outside the cafeteria idea,” he said after the meeting. “And the beauty of the pavilion idea is that it will become part of the students everyday social routine.”
South Mountain also recently completed a energy survey of the Chilmark School, underwritten by an anonymous donor who is a Chilmark summer resident.
“Our charge was to investigate the school thoroughly and propose a course of action which would eliminate fossil fuel consumption,” said Mr. Abrams, who recently took the company’s findings to Chilmark selectmen. The report recommends using renewable fuel on site, in combination with biodiesel and fuel from a wood pellet boiler.
Mr. Abrams hopes that the project, which has estimated costs of $750,000, will attract donors and grant agencies as well as town involvement.
“It’s an exciting project, particularly as the school is in terrible shape,” he said. “We want to make it functionally wonderful.”