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Dunedin is a city so green that it's golden

DUNEDIN

The songwriter who penned the line "It's not easy bein' green" apparently has never been to Dunedin. From creating community gardens, to providing incentives through new building codes, to simply turning off lights and unplugging appliances, folks across the city are racking up awards for being environmentally friendly.

The city's Florida Green Building Coalition certification was recently upgraded from silver to gold, tieing for the state's top spot with Sarasota County and making Dunedin the highest-ranking green city in Florida.

Mease Dunedin Hospital has earned its second consecutive Energy Star for superior energy efficiency. And the Pinellas County school system has ranked Dunedin's San Jose Elementary the most energy efficient in the district two years in a row.

City Commissioner Ron Barnette, a longtime supporter of green initiatives, called the awards a "wonderful sign" of the community's commitment to respecting nature.

"What I hope the city can continue to do is to not only set a good example for the residents and other businesses and facilities, but to brainstorm with others on new green initiatives," Barnette said. "Not only is it good for the environment, it's a way of enhancing the spirit of a community and bringing people together in a very healthy way."

Dunedin's gold designation is based on new green initiatives the city has adopted since earning silver status back in 2007. The FGBC awards municipalities points for activities, ordinances and incentive programs that improve their local area's energy, water, air, land and waste.

Top-rated city initiatives five years ago included things like educating new city employees on green policies, reviewing training procedures in the Fire Department to conserve water, purchasing hybrid and electric vehicles for the city's fleet and providing curbside recycling. The Dunedin Community Center opened in January 2007 as the city's first LEED-certified building.

One initiative that helped boost Dunedin to gold status was a building code update that encourages developers to "build green" through incentives like fast-track permitting, permit fee waivers and a bonus that allows them to include more apartments than normal in environmentally friendly apartments. All future municipal buildings — except those with low occupancy like bathrooms, warehouses and pavilions — and affordable housing built within the city must be green certified.

The city also earned points for its recycling and community garden programs, specifying the use of recycled paper products and non-toxic cleaning chemicals in its janitorial contracts, and promoting environmental education through its website and at schools.

Dunedin's website even caters to green-minded tourists by promoting eco-hotels that recycle and attempt to reduce water use.

"Those are the three goals of sustainability programs: to save money, reduce the impacts on the environment and be beneficial to the people," said Dunedin sustainability coordinator Valerie Brown.

Brown is a frequent presenter at San Jose Elementary, which was named the most energy-efficient elementary school in Pinellas County for reducing its energy consumption by 128,000 kilowatts, or 18 percent, between 2008 and 2011.

Gary Huffaker, an independent energy coach who assists the Pinellas County school district, hesitates to use the ranking to compare schools because their varying sizes, ventilation systems, and weekday or weekend activity schedules tend to skew the results.

But he noted that San Jose constantly remains near the top of the list, partly because of staff and students' attentiveness to recycling, water conservation and being proactive about simple things like shutting off appliances.

For example, San Jose family and community liaison Janine Munns and energy coach Wayne Hefty said, all 55 of the school's 450 students who applied won spots on the school's Green Team, making it one of the largest in the county.

The group's environmental projects include mentoring younger students as well as collecting soda cans and broken aluminum chairs, which in turn are sold and generate profit for the school. Several members produce news pieces about the projects for the school newsletter and television program. Munns said they're in the process of making a bottle-cap mural and growing herbs that will be used to make butter for Mother's Day gifts.

Parents and cafeteria workers have gotten involved, too.

Munns said the food workers use herbs from a garden on school property in student meals. In a partnership with Lowe's, the employees donated 30 five-gallon buckets to put under the school's air-conditioning units and collect condensation, which students use to water several campus gardens. A parent who owns an air-conditioning business donates old items to the school's recycling efforts each month.

Despite being one of the district's smallest schools, Hefty said, San Jose recycled 25,000 pounds of paper in 2010-11 and is one of the largest collectors of metal.

Said Munns: "We have so much positive response from parents who say they've learned so much from their kids."

A news release says Mease Dunedin Hospital, too, has reduced its energy consumption in recent years through initiatives like teaching employees to shut off printers and other appliances they're not using and installing electric sub meters that staffers can use to monitor, analyze and react to real-time energy use.

Other green-certified projects in the city include Bayshore Breeze Mobil, a gas station on the Dunedin Causeway; Habitat for Humanity's ongoing Howell Street affordable housing project, Shady Grove Townhomes; and Glencairn Cottages, a 14-home community on Douglas Avenue named the region's first green development by the Florida Green Building Coalition.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at ksummers@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4153. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Dunedin is a city so green that it's golden 03/27/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 7:43pm]
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