The Albemarle County school system received top honors for the statewide Green Schools Challenge.

The Virginia School Board Association named Albemarle best in state for eco-friendly practices. The county's prime example is the Renewable Energy Resource Center at Henley Middle School.

Two years ago, Henley students raised $40,000 for solar panels. That work helped the county environmental manager obtain a grant for further efforts, to the tune of more than $200 million.

"I think Henley is a really good example of what the people at the school can do. This would not have been possible without the fundraising that was done by the students and the environmental interest, so if the interest is there, we can do a lot of things,” said Lindsay Snoddy, environmental compliance manager for Albemarle County.

Thanks to programs like the one at Henley, Albemarle County saves $400,000 annually in energy costs.

Albemarle County Public Schools Press Release

(ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Virginia) – Albemarle County Public Schools received the top environmental award in Virginia in the annual “Green Schools Challenge” conducted by the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA).

The announcement was made at VSBA’s annual convention recently held in Williamsburg. The competition is designed to encourage school divisions to implement environmental policies and actions that reduce carbon emissions. In the category for school divisions with a student enrollment of 10,001 or more students, Albemarle placed first in the state.

“This is a highly meaningful award that signifies several benefits for our county,” said Dean Tistadt, the school division’s Chief Operating Officer. “The environmental efficiencies we have been able to achieve in our buildings have allowed us to reduce our budget for utility and energy costs. At the same time, students are involved in many of our activities, so this is a powerful learning opportunity in our schools,” Tistadt said.

Using 2009-10 as a baseline, the school division has avoided $400,000 in energy costs because of such actions as lighting upgrades in many of the division’s buildings, operating equipment modernization, and improved building automation controls. Twenty-three of the division’s 26 schools have attained ENERGY STAR certification, which is a federal Environmental Protection Agency recognition program. A building’s energy efficiency must be within the top 25 percent of all similar buildings in the nation in order to be designated as an ENERGY STAR building.

Among the division’s more impactful programs is the Renewable Energy Resource Center at Henley Middle School in Crozet, which utilizes solar photovoltaic panels and a wind turbine to generate electricity and a solar thermal system for heating water. Since its 2012 inception, the center has produced over 120,000 kilowatt hours and has eliminated 88 tons of carbon dioxide emissions.

Four of the division’s schools, Crozet and Meriwether Lewis elementary schools and Jack Jouett and Sutherland middle schools, have composting programs. This year, these four schools have diverted more than 126 tons of discarded food from landfills and saved the equivalent of nearly 900 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Several other schools in the division have expressed interest in adding composting programs in their cafeterias within the next year.

“We are continuing to improve our sustainability performance by setting ambitious objectives,” Lindsay Check Snoddy, the school division’s Environmental Compliance Manager, pointed out. “Our current goals are to further reduce our use of energy, expand our commercial composting program, and improve our conservation of water,” she said.

The VSBA also honors school divisions that earn “Green Points” for policies and actions that preserve the environment. For the fifth consecutive year, points earned by Albemarle County Public Schools placed the school division in VSBA’s highest category, Platinum.

Separately, the division will open an Environmental Studies Academy at Western Albemarle High School with its first class of students next August. This new center of excellence ultimately will embrace a wide range of scientific, technical and research capabilities. Students will be able to choose one of two tracks—either an environmental science track focused on independent field research and project-based study, or an applied track that will empower students to address real-world environmental problems and opportunities.