Buchanan High School is close to completing a green-tech center that will prepare students for an expected surge in renewable energy jobs.
State officials say the Buchanan Energy Academy will be one-of-a-kind, exposing students to an array of renewable energy systems in a building designed to meet the highest sustainable building methods and energy efficiency.
The $5.2 million building on the Teague Avenue side of Buchanan's campus will feature wind turbines, solar panels, high-tech skylights, floor heating and water storage from rain runoff to irrigate a rooftop garden.
The academy, which opens in August, will be part classroom, part hands-on laboratory for its students.
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It's being touted as a state model, said Clay Mitchell, an education program consultant with the state Department of Education in Sacramento.
"There are schools that will do solar or a water piece or environmental engineering, but this one puts it all together in one unique facility," he said.
The plan is to prepare academy graduates for the wave of green-tech jobs expected to hit California in coming years.
The state's utility companies must generate 20% of their electricity this year through renewable means such as solar or wind, and 33% by 2020. According to a 2008 study by the University of California, every 1% improvement in energy efficiency will create more than 400,000 jobs.
Energy academy students from Buchanan could qualify for apprenticeships right after school, although some may choose to go to technical schools and community colleges, and others will go to four-year universities, said Debi Kelly, a learning director at Buchanan High School. The academy is designed to give students a head-start in the green-tech field.
Stan Dobbs, Coalinga-Huron Joint Unified School District's assistant superintendent, recently visited the Buchanan site. He said he is interested in getting an energy learning center for his district, but it will likely take a couple of years and a school bond measure or corporate participation.
The increasing number of solar plants planned for the west side of the Valley will create job opportunities for Coalinga-Huron students, Dobbs said.
Buchanan officials are drawing up the academy's curriculum now. Classes will range from Energy Technology with Industry Applications to chemistry and physics, Kelly said. Students in the academy will continue to take classes such as English and mathematics at Buchanan.
Students will learn to build and install solar panels and wind turbines, and eventually will be able to study water turbines, such as those used to generate power on dams, she said.
Kelly said she expects the 10,000-square-foot center to open with about 140 students.
District funds are paying for half of the $5.2 million project, and the rest is coming from the state's career technical education grants program authorized through Proposition 1-D, which voters approved in 2006.
Renewable technologies will be visible almost everywhere in the academy -- a solar hot water heater, floor heating, translucent energy-saving windows and cut-outs in walls offering a view of tubing that conveys heat through the building. Rain runoff from the building will irrigate the sustainable garden on the rooftop. The vegetative rooftop also adds to the building's insulation.
A team of contractors employed the latest energy-efficient construction technologies in a classroom setting, said John Smith, a Fresno architect with S.I.M. Architects, who drew up the plans.
"The biggest challenge was in creating a school building that is a teaching tool," he said. "We really wanted the kids to have a hands-on approach in learning about sustainable design and alternative energy."
The wind turbines and solar panels will generate their own energy, but not enough to power the entire building, Smith said.
Even though the academy never was intended to generate its own electricity and go off the power grid, "the potential is there," said Rick Lawson, director of construction and engineering for Clovis Unified.
Visitors will be able to keep tabs on the academy's power production from a public kiosk being built outside the academy that will display readouts of energy generated from its solar panels and wind turbines.
The building is made from some of the most energy-efficient construction methods available, such as Styrofoam-insulated concrete forms for walls, Lawson said.
The building will teach students and the community about sustainable building methods and energy efficiency, said Loren Aiton, a Fresno architect and president of the Central California chapter of the U.S. Green Buildings Council.
He said the center's construction will teach students "about new techniques that will be requirements in the future."
The building is expected to meet worldwide Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, which Aiton said he encouraged the district's design team to seek. Practices include using recycled material and reducing job site waste. The energy center is expected to reach silver certification or possibly gold, Lawson said. The highest LEED level is platinum.
LEED certification requires significant paperwork, but school officials, contractors and architects working on the energy academy say they are spending the extra time and money so students will be able to learn about the process first-hand.
As of March, seven buildings are LEED-certified in Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Madera counties. None exceeds the silver level. The recently built state Department of Motor Vehicles building is the only LEED-certified building in Clovis.
The Buchanan academy is being watched by Fresno Unified School District, which has formed an advisory board for a Green Energy and Technology Academy at Edison High School.
In addition to the Edison project, state officials expect to see more high school energy training centers being developed across California.
Buchanan could be a model for many of them, said Mitchell of the state Department of Education: "They really have a showcase facility that is nowhere else in the state."