The push for energy efficiency and sustainable technology did not drive the institution to install it. When Rockland BOCES began to put additions onto the facilities eight-to-10 years ago, the motivation was to incorporate more hands-on learning into the school’s curriculum. Thanks to funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and donated services, the school is ahead of the curve in green technology, and continues to increase the on-campus presence of the newest technology available. The administration is spreading the technology to different areas of instruction, and even more impressively, it is able to combine and integrate the teachings in the school-wide house project.
The house project is the culmination of the carpentry, electric, and plumbing programs working together in the Construction Trades Academy, the school’s director, William Boydston, explains. Rockland BOCES installed a foundation on its campus with the plan to construct a house and then tear it down after two years. Not so fast. “Well, as we got started with it, things started to come up!” Boydston explains. “We could put a geothermal system into the house now, and then, maybe, tear the house down. Maybe not. Well, we’ve never torn the house down, we’ve just added to it.”
The school has done more than just add to it—it has created a structure brim-full of the latest sustainable technology systems. Below the ground is a system of geothermal pipes that provide heating and air conditioning for the home. Above ground, a compost pile created from donated manure and woodchips heats a coil of water piping coming out of the house for hot water. The water has reached an unbelievable 150 degrees! On the roof, there are both solar panels for hot water heating and solar shingles that generate electricity. The solar shingles on the house were the first to be installed in New York. The electricity bill for the house last month was in the negatives: the electric company, Orange and Rockland Utility, was actually paying Rockland BOCES for the electricity that the house project generated.
In addition to the windmill and the house project, there is a large solar panel on the top of one of the academic buildings generating electricity. Also, the culinary program takes any used frying oil and filters it through a three-step process to become the school’s own brand of biodiesel fuel. The school’s buses run on an 80-to-20 ratio of gasoline to biodiesel, cutting down on harmful emissions.
Students are heavily involved in maintaining the sustainable systems. They do all the filtering of the biodiesel fuel. Most impressively, the house project itself—all the framework, plumbing, and wiring—was built by the students. The advanced technology systems that could not be installed by the students were often implemented with the students looking on, a testament to the school’s conviction to teach and train its students. The faculty has also formulated a way to teach the students who did not get to witness the installation. “That group of students got to learn it [by watching the installation] here. Now we have to teach it in the classroom by doing mock-up installations in the classroom; then come down and actually do the readings, the testing, and taking down the data,” says Boydston.
Rockland BOCES is proud of the advances it has made, but that doesn’t mean the administration is satisfied. Eventually, the plan is to put solar panels on top of the majority of buildings on campus. In just a few years, the school conceivably could make a profit from sustainable technologies by making more electricity than it requires and selling the excess back to the power company.
The school itself isn’t the one benefiting the most from having the technology on campus; the students soak up the new technology and understand the concepts they involve.
The most rewarding thing about the greener systems is simple for the administration, officials say. “Seeing the students mesmerized at the fact that this technology exists and they’re learning it—that’s the best part of the whole thing,” says Boydston. “When a student sees something that they’ve never heard of before, that they know should exist, but it’s in their backyard here.” The Rockland BOCES students are immersed in this technology, and leave BOCES with both a Regents diploma and a trade certification. Seventy-eight percent go on to higher learning, and with such a strong green background, they have a leg up in the field, Boydston says.
It’s the administration’s hope that the foundation that Rockland BOCES has laid for its students will further their careers, and make the world greener for the future.