By Celis Brisbin, Programs Manager

HMFH Architects partnered with Katie Nehmer, a science teacher at Boston Arts Academy (BAA), to lead students in a hands-on green building investigation looking at water and energy usage at their school. HMFH is an architecture firm based in Cambridge, who has been hired to design the new BAA school building. The goal of this green apple energy and water audit was to engage directly with BAA staff and students about the use of their current building and what new, sustainable features should be incorporated into the new school design. 

A total of 40 students participated in the Green Apple events over two environmental science classes. Ms. Nehmer began the water lesson with a background on where Boston's water comes from and asked the students to write down what questions they had and what it was about water that they wanted to learn.
During the hands-on audit, students formed small groups, each one conducting a different activity on water usage. The areas of focus were, how much does a leaky faucet waste, how much water is used to wash hands and how much water is consumed to flush a toilet vs. a urinal. Chin Lin, project architect at HMFH, kicked off the water audit along with Phoebe Beierle, Sustainability Manager at Boston Public Schools. After getting their instructions, students took to the tasks quickly using their timers, calculators, graduated cylinders, buckets and other various tools. After gathering water usage data from bathrooms and sinks from around the school, the class took a survey to determine the average number of times students washed their hands during the school day. Using all of this information, students were shocked when they calculated how much total water was used in their building each year just to wash hands and flush toilets. And a leaky faucet that is left leaking…that can cost the school district a lot of wasted money. The students in these classes will certainly be more conscious of keeping the water off while washing and reporting broken plumbing fixtures from now on! 

The next investigation that the class embarked on was all about phantom power…something the students were very intrigued about. Using kill-a-watt meters, the student groups measured the amount of electricity used by various appliances and electronics in the classroom when they were turned off (phantom power), and when they were powered on. Students also compared the energy consumption of three different types of light bulbs – an incandescent, compact fluorescent (CFL) and LED. Keeping in mind that a kill-a-watt doesn’t mean much to people, the class converted the unit of electricity to pounds of coal, something the students felt was more tangible. It turns out that it will take 1,300 lbs of coal to power Ms. Nehmer’s classroom lights for 7 hours a day, for 180 days.

As a result of these investigations, Ms. Nehmer’s students were shocked to realize how many resources just one school in Boston uses every year. Naturally they asked a lot of questions about what they could do to make a difference and they are excited to work with HMFH to ensure the design of the new Boston Arts Academy building is as efficient and sustainable as possible. 

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