Reality is forcing Americans and their community institutions to make adjustments because of the twin threats of global warming and rising energy costs. The changes being made are apparent: fewer cars on the road; more people walking, riding bikes or taking mass transit; renewed interest in recycling and reclaimed water; and more construction of energy-efficient, environmentally friendly buildings.
Credit the Pinellas County School District with getting onboard the trend toward more responsible construction methods. The new Tarpon Springs Elementary School is scheduled to open in the fall, and as the St. Petersburg Times reported Wednesday, it has been designed to be a "green" building.
The school district will seek LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) from the U.S. Green Building Council when the school is completed.
A long list of environmental and design requirements must be met to receive that designation, but more and more construction projects, in both the private and public sectors, are being designed with LEED certification as the goal.
For example, at the new Tarpon Springs Elementary, the bathrooms will have low-flow toilets. Sensors will turn off lights. Recycled and nontoxic building materials will be used in construction. The design of the building and its climate control systems will permit efficient use of energy.
Public schools use a vast amount of energy, and they house our most precious resource: children. It is important to make sure that building materials used in school construction are safe, since children spend so many hours there. And building them so they consume less energy also should be a priority.
An interesting footnote: The new Tarpon Springs Elementary project is costing $29-million. The cost in 1952 to build the school now standing on the Disston Avenue site: $325,000.
Cities must pay more with less
Most local governments in Pinellas County are searching for ways to make major cuts to their budgets for the 2008-09 fiscal year. Their struggles to do so don't win them much sympathy from some members of the public convinced that vast sums of tax money are wasted by government and there is plenty of wiggle room in government budgets.
A recent item reported in the Times helps explain why the job of cutting budgets without cutting services isn't as easy as it may seem.
Last year, the city of Clearwater paid $2.2-million to McMullen Oil Co. for unleaded and diesel fuel for city vehicles.
Next year the contract cost will be $3.93-million. That price was based on estimates that by September, unleaded gas would be $3.80 a gallon and diesel would be $4.35. If recent price escalations at the pump continue, those estimates may be low.
Those types of price escalations are occurring on many of the other products and services that local governments must purchase to do their job, yet government tax revenues are falling. Just as individuals are struggling to find ways to make their inadequate paychecks stretch to cover the bills, so, too, are governments.