Via NREL Newswire

The kids are back in school in post-Katrina New Orleans, and there's light at the end of the classroom.

Five years after Katrina flushed water through the failed floodwalls, destroying homes, damaging classrooms and dashing dreams, the opportunity to build green schools that save millions of dollars on energy bills is just within reach for the school districts that serve New Orleans.Hurricane Katrina knocked out dozens of schools along with thousands of homes, and for quite a while the mission was just to keep education alive and the three Rs solvent. But now, with the help of federal disaster dollars, the school district has launched an ambitious goal to build 40 new schools and renovate 38 others that are at least 30 percent more energy efficient than required by code.


The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory helped stitch together a blueprint for what the new and renovated schools should become. Now that the first of the new schools have opened, NREL will monitor some schools to illustrate what works well and what opportunities were missed, helping the districts to push new school design teams toward ever more efficient designs.


Things are looking up in New Orleans, which has launched school reform, attracting teacher talent. But even before Katrina, many of the buildings were ramshackle. The 38 schools that require major renovation include those damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita, but also many that simply suffered from years of neglect.


New Orleans is humid and often hot, but problems arise at times when temperatures are moderate and humidity remains high. The air that enters the halls and classrooms has to be dried out before it is distributed to the space, compounding the challenge to bring energy efficiency to schools there.


Several studies have shown that students perform better on standardized tests when their classrooms are daylit and the air is comfortable. For example, the Heschong Mahone Daylighting Study found a dramatic correlation between daylit school environments and student performance, including 20 percent faster progression in math and 26 percent faster progression in reading. The Greening America's Schools summary report found an average of a 38.5 percent reduction in asthma in schools with improved indoor air quality.  In addition to energy costs, studies such as these were considered when the district set the goal of LEED Silver for their new school buildings.