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New Kent elementary school is Washington State's most earth friendly. Green isn't just the color of carpet and building trim at Millennium Elementary. It's also the school's philosophy. Partially powered by solar and windmill energy, and warmed with geothermal heat, the new school, which opens today, is the most environmentally friendly in the state, Kent school officials say.

"This is what all schools will be like in the future," predicts project manager Conteh Kamara. "Already we have had calls from districts who want to see what we've done." In addition to alternative heat and power sources, Millennium features a five-acre natural wetland, an underground storm water collection and reuse system for irrigation, and "waterless urinals" expected to save about 144,000 gallons of water from going down the drain each year.

Much of the school's curriculum will be linked to the environment, too. Once a boardwalk trail is built around the school's wetland, Millennium Principal Marilyn Godfrey says teachers will be able to incorporate wetland studies into math, science, reading and writing.

"It will be nice; they won't just see it on paper they can see it going on outside," she said. The school, which will house 600 students in kindergarten through sixth grade, was built for about $12 million with money raised by the district's 1996 construction bond measure. It serves students in the surrounding neighborhood, south of Kent Kangley Road, west of Highway 18.

Conservation was even part of the school's planning process. Millennium is believed to be the first school in the state to receive bids electronically saving stacks of paper and nearly $25,000, since all of the blueprints were created on a CD ROM, district officials say.

Though costs for most of the earth-friendly gadgets were higher than traditional equipment, school officials expect the district to save money in the long run. The school's geothermal heat pump, for example, cost almost $200,000 more than a gas or electric system. But with lower maintenance and energy costs, the difference is expected to be paid off in about 20 years, about a third of the building's expected life span, school officials say.

"We're going with low-maintenance systems, so down the road we won't have to scramble for funding for maintenance," Kamara said. School officials say additional resources and money will be saved with Millennium's underground storm-water collection and reuse system. Whenever it rains, storm water will run into a giant vault that's buried about 25 feet under the school's grass sports field. The vault holds about 64,000 cubic feet of water, enough to irrigate the field for nearly six weeks.

Next, the water will be pumped to a pond adjacent to the school's wetland area, where it's naturally filtrated. Once treated, it can be pumped back to the field. The system is expected to save the most money during high irrigation months.

Millennium also serves as a testing ground for a small number of other "green" concepts. A roof-mounted wind turbine and solar panels have been installed to measure the effectiveness of solar and wind energy. If the system is cost-effective and successful, it will be used more widely in future projects, school officials say.

Some parents, such as PTSA President Kim Komoto, say they're excited about the new school because its theme opens the door for more science education. Others hope all of the attention to the school's structure doesn't take away from what's supposed to be taking place in the classroom. "Honestly, as a parent, I just want a good education for my child, and good teachers; (building) structure is not primary for me," said Venus Azodi. ". . . Recycling the water is great, but my main priority is education. I'm sure in 10 years, most of the schools will be doing this."

Still, Principal Godfrey doesn't think parents or students will be disappointed. "This is a unique opportunity to the children here," she says. "They're going to become very conscious about our natural resources and using them wisely. ... It's a good way to start the century, I think.

Provided by: Schools Going Solar. Reprint, story by Lisa Pemberton-Butler, Seattle Times, South bureau.


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