It seems everyone is interested in going green these days, and the Cumberland County Board of Education is no exception.

During its July 24 meeting, the board was introduced to the idea of schools that promote learning as well as sustainability. All it would take to complete this vision is some styrofoam and concrete, said Randy Wilkerson with Sustainable Building Components LLC.

"We want to build schools that promote a better environment for kids to learn under," he explained. "I think we can achieve the level we are after by creating an envelope for the building that is going to be energy efficient [and] is going to be safe."

The envelope Wilkerson referred to is known as insulated concrete forms (ICFs). The forms consists of a series of styrofoam panels that are stacked together like Lego blocks, reinforced by rebar and filled with concrete. Once it is poured, the concrete becomes the structural element of the building, while the sytrofoam serves as an insulating barrier.

"I think one place you can start at in achieving…efficiency, durability, safety and indoor air quality is by creating a shell that will withstand tornadic conditions, that will withstand your climatic changes of hot and cold seasons and…promote indoor air quality."

According to Wilkerson, concrete is one of the most durable products around today, and by using this building method, one can greatly increase the strength of a structure. He pointed out the ICFs allow a building to withstand up to 250 mph winds and protect inhabitants from flying debris when in the proximity of a tornado.

Another advantage of using ICFs is the decrease in heat transfer between the interior and exterior walls.

"By sandwiching the concrete wall between two pieces of insulation, you have a mass that is going to block or slow down the transfer of hot and cold air," he stated.

Wilkerson said measuring the transfer of heat is important in this area. To measure it, he takes into account the number of degrees an interior wall's temperature is affected by outside temperature within a 12-hour period.

"With a six-inch concrete form wall, the heat transfer in a 12-hour period is one degree…Basically, what that means to the school board is that in a typical environment of a school operation the heating and cooling equipment is going to cycle extremely less than it would in normal conditions…With the short heat transfer period, that means that unit is not going to cycle in and out as much, which basically means you are cutting the operational costs of your classrooms and any other enclosed area by 50 or 60 percent," explained Wilkerson.

With a short timeframe for heat to take place, air infiltration is reduced, which takes care of another big problem—mold.

"With air infiltration down, it eliminates the opportunity for mold to grow because of the styrofoam base," he said. "You will still have paper on the back of the drywall, but if moisture is coming through five inches of styrofoam and six inches of concrete, we should all be looking for Noah's little mountain top and getting on that boat."

Other important advantages of using IFCs is the elimination of outside or room-to-room noise, the ability to hide wiring and plumbing in the walls by channeling out the foam, the flexibility of using brick, stucco and other materials for the exterior and less waste when applying drywall.

"You can apply [a piece of] drywall directly to the surface area and do not have to cut between studs, eliminating nearly 20 to 30 percent of drywall waste," said Wilkerson.

He added, "There are no limitations. Anything you can do with wood you can do with foam and concrete."

Wilkerson mentioned that ICFs cost almost the same as traditional building methods and, in some cases, have been a little less because of increases in the prices of other materials due to higher fuel costs.

"So it makes sense to me…to build a structure that is going to give you 50 percent return on your money in terms of every reduction and cost of energy, and depending on the size of the school, that can be as much as $100,000 a year—the price of two teachers, 200 computers or 5,000 new books maybe," he said.

Although no decision was needed by the board on this matter, Director of Schools Aarona VanWinkle said she wanted the board to consider this information as discussion continues on the new elementary school project.

• Speaking of building projects, Construction Supervisor Eric Newman notified the board that the Phoenix/Alternative School should be completed by the end of August.

The project is moving along nicely, he noted, with windows, guttering and canopies installed and classrooms painted. More painting and exterior improvements were expected to be completed next, and the ceiling grid and floor tiles were scheduled for delivery.

In mid-August, the punchlist will be reviewed, and a final inspection will be conducted by the State Fire Marshal's Office.

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