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Virginia Journal of Education

Planting a CEED

In Franklin County, educators, students and the community join forces to create a 'zero-energy' building.

by John Richardson and Neil Sigmon

It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child, but as Franklin County can attest, it truly takes a community to plant a CEED. The Center for Energy Efficient Design (CEED) was first conceived in late 2002, and through an all-out community effort, it has finally sprouted in the rich soil of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A zero-energy building that will produce more electricity than it uses, the CEED will be an educational resource for the region, state and entire planet. Using techniques and technologies that include wind turbines and photovoltaic arrays for electricity; earth berming and solar orientation for heat and light; and rainwater harvesting and geothermal energy to conserve all of its resources, the CEED will truly be a one-of-a-kind facility.

After an alternative energy conference in 2002, we decided we wanted to bring these renewable energies back to our school and students in a real way, and the idea of the CEED was born. As teachers at the Gereau Center for Applied Technology and Career Exploration in Rocky Mount, we knew what kind of reception such an ambitious idea would receive. The Gereau Center is an innovative middle school/high school hybrid founded on a holistic Problem-Based Learning model. The response from the faculty and administration was overwhelmingly positive. As Kevin Bezy, Gereau’s principal says, “This is what the Gereau Center is all about, what makes it so special.” Encouraged by fellow Franklin County Education Association members Susan Montgomery and Elaine Hawkins, we began the work of putting together community partners.

First to help was now-retired U.S. Representative Virgil Goode from Virginia’s 5th District. Rep. Goode saw the educational and economic impact such a project would bring to the area and beyond. “This is a wonderful teaching tool,” he says. “Someone will be building the wind turbines and solar panels of tomorrow. Why not here in Franklin County? Why not now? The CEED will be a perfect example of what we can build today.” Goode was instrumental in getting a U.S. Department of Energy grant for the initial stages of development.

Additional help came from the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals, and Energy. Ken Jurman, the department’s director of renewable energy, was invaluable in getting state funding for demonstration projects including a residential wind turbine, solar panels and solar hot water heaters. He is continuing to work to bring additional stimulus monies to further the educational component of the CEED.

Local businesses were also eager to help, even in times of economic slowdown. MW Windows of Rocky Mount, a nationally known manufacturer of energy-efficient windows, volunteered to design, build and donate special, eco-engineered windows especially for the CEED. Other local business, from concrete producers to carpenters, plumbers and electricians donated time and materials, as well.

Perhaps the biggest break came in early 2008 when one of John’s students mentioned that his father worked for one of the most respected “green” architects in the region, Adam Cohen. Cohen is one of only a handful of American architects trained in the German-inspired building concept PassivHaus, an energy-saving strategy. He was very enthusiastic about working on the CEED. “I knew this was just what I was looking for, a project that can truly help to change where we as a nation, a culture are headed,” he says. “This is an incredible concept—a building that teaches.” PassivHaus was just the tool that could really bring the CEED to true “zero-energy” status and Cohen willingly donated his services to the project.

The final piece fell into place when the Franklin County Board of Supervisors gave their blessing and allocated over $400,000 to finish the funding quest. Board member David Cundiff says, “This is a wonderful addition to the county’s school system and will bring our children into the 21st century with a skill set that is truly without compare.”

Students have been intimately involved from the very beginning, helping pick out solar panels and hot water and geothermal systems, and learning the concepts and theories that underlie the science involved in the planning and construction of the building. But they also understand the bigger picture as well. Kayla Hurley, now a junior at Franklin County High School, has worked on the project for four years. “We want to leave our mark, and leave something of worth behind,” she says. Invoking the Law of the Great Iroquois Nation, she adds, “We need to leave something for the Seventh Generation…our grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren.”

So finally, on August 29, 2009, ground was broken and the CEED was planted. But the job of reaping the fruit has just begun. Teachers are writing curriculum for all students, K-12, to benefit from the CEED. Through an interactive website, students, teachers, parents and others will be able to avail themselves of real-time data, downloadable lesson plans and ideas on how to use the CEED in their own classrooms, even if it’s on the other side of the world. We envision kids in Australia, for example, checking out our website to see how well our solar panels or wind turbine are working, or checking to see how much rainwater we’ve collected in the last month.

Understandably, the entire community is excited and proud of the CEED and its impact locally and globally. Students are already working on plans to write hundreds of letters inviting President Obama to the August 2010 opening. But the community is most proud of the way they have come together. As Franklin County Superintendent Charles Lackey says, “This is such a great example of what a community can do when a sense of common purpose is felt. Bringing private and public stakeholders together, combining local, state and federal energies…that’s what the planting of the CEED is all about.”

Richardson and Sigmon, members of the Franklin County Education Association, teach at the Gereau Center for Applied Technology and Career Exploration.



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