NEW PORT RICHEY — Matt Silverman, president of the Tampa Bay Rays, gazed out to hundreds of children sitting cross-legged Friday afternoon on the floor of Marlowe Elementary School's auditorium. "You are leaders,'' he told them. "You are educating and setting the standard for schools all over the United States and you should be very proud.''
The kids, many in Rays jerseys, many in green vests as members of the school's Earth Patrol recycling team, politely applauded — quite a contrast to the whooping and giggling just moments earlier when Raymond, the Rays' mascot, rumbled and stumbled and hugged blushing principal Terri Mutell.
Silverman, whose team is headed to the playoffs and had just whipped the Yankees two straight in New York, delighted school officials with his commitment to turn Marlowe "green'' — not to mention a $10,000 grant.
But in a room full of kids, it's hard to compete with a big, blue furry sea dog. Silverman didn't mind, and the children listened politely as he heralded this "model partnership project'' that will sweep the country.
This school, named for the late Dr. James Marlowe, a physician and progressive member of the Pasco School Board for 10 years, is the site of a new partnership between the Rays, the Pasco Education Foundation and the U.S. Green Building Council. Together, they plan to transform the 11-year-old school into one that qualifies for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) recognition.
"It's actually really a model for the country," said Colleen Mackin, executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council Gulf Coast chapter. "It's kind of an exciting place for us to be."
Marlowe will be the first of the existing county schools to be converted and will join six other Pasco schools as LEED-certified — most in the state along with Charlotte County.
Mutell said she began explaining the project to students long before Friday's shindig.
"Our kids are going to see the whole process," Mutell said. "When you talk about kids' understanding about their place in the process … this takes it to a whole new level."
She expects teachers to include lessons from the effort across the curriculum. She also noted how the initiative fits neatly with Marlowe's emphasis on teaching kids to set and achieve goals.
"This is a perfect connection," Mutell said. "Here's our goal — going for a gold certification — and what are the steps we have to take along the way. The school is working on a goal as well as each student is on his own."
The Rays' involvement is part of the "Team Up for the Environment'' initiative the team launched in 2008, explained Melanie Lenz, vice president for development.
Each of the two past years, the ball club gave grants to community organizations that had projects promoting sustainability. Pasco County schools received a grant both years.
"As we were talking about a green school project, looking at a Pasco County school just became a natural extension," Lenz said.
She said the Rays' involvement is expected to lure other groups to support the effort. She also figured the team will be "heavily involved" with Marlowe over the year, though she had not worked out the details.
School district project manager Mike Woodall said Marlowe qualified for basic LEED certification without any added work.
"The school is already an efficient, clean school," Woodall said.
With some adjustments, though, it can reach higher ratings of environmental and energy efficiency, he said.
For instance, the school could replace its current lightbulbs with less powerful ones. It also can add sensors to sinks for less water waste, and use different pesticides and cleaning supplies with fewer chemicals, among other things.
"It's sustainability. That's what it is all about," Woodall said. "We're excited about it. We think it can do great things for Marlowe and great things across the district."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 909-4614. For more education news, visit the Gradebook at www.tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.