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American Canyon High School praised as blueprint for green jobs

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Kamera Smith

ACHS tenth grader Kamera Smith praised her high school Tuesday morning for gathered officials from the school district, local trade unions, and city, county and state representatives as part of an event that touted the high school as a model for creating green sector jobs. Michael Waterson/Eagle 

American Canyon High School continues to draw admiration and praise. The state-of-the-art campus was on display once again this week, the star of an event touting the cost savings, health and environmental benefits and job growth potential of modernizing and greening California schools.

Officials from the school district, local labor unions, gathered with city, county and state government representatives in the school’s quadrangle Tuesday morning to promote retrofitting existing schools and building new schools for economic and educational advantages.

The BlueGreen Alliance, a national partnership between labor unions and environmental organizations dedicated to expanding the number and quality of jobs in the green economy, sponsored the event.

“I wish I’d gone to this high school,” said Carl Pope. “My high school didn’t look like this. My high school didn’t feel like this.”

Pope, a former Sierra Club executive director, co-founded the labor-conservation partnership in 2006 with the United Steelworkers. He said that the group now has 14 million members in a coalition of 10 unions and four conservation organizations. 

Pope said there has never been a better time to invest in the green sector, citing abundant labor and cheaper materials. 

“American Canyon High School has been called ‘the greenest school in America.’” Lisa Hoyos, Blue Green Alliance spokesperson said as she introduced a series of speakers including state assemblymember Mariko Yamada, American Canyon City Councilmember Belia Ramos Bennett , Napa Valley Unified School District Superintendent Patrick Sweeney, Napa County Office of Education Superintendent Barbara Nemko and others.

Hoyos touted the coalition’s Jobs21 program, “a grassroots plan to create jobs in renewable energy, energy efficiency, transportation, broadband, a smart electrical grid, broadband Internet, recycling and green chemistry,” as well as the American Jobs Act, a proposal by President Obama that would invest $30 billion in the nations public schools and community colleges.

The school, built at a cost of $160 million, opened last year and has many green features, including natural lighting, a 1-megawatt solar electrical system, low-flow water fixtures and a geothermal heating and cooling system. Measure G funded the school’s construction along with other improvements, including the remodeling of Memorial Stadium at Napa High School. 

ACHS is reportedly the first school in the nation to complete the certification process for the Collaborative for High Performance Schools, a national green compliance standard. 

Napa County Superintendent of Schools Barbara Nemko said American Canyon High School has many fans around the state, including state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson.

“Tom loves American Canyon High School,” Nemko said. “He just thinks it’s fabulous.”

Assemblymember Yamada said when the community cares enough to invest in them, students do better.

“Families we would not have seen without the school continue to come to American Canyon for a great education,” said Ramos Bennett. She said the community not only benefited from construction jobs for the school, but from the ongoing economic benefits of the new families it attracts.

Don Evans, director of School Planning and Construction for the school district and project manager for construction of the campus, said the high school was his crowning achievement.

“In 40-plus years (with the school district) this is the high point of my career,” Evans said. But, Evans said, the rest of the district’s schools need an upgrade.

“We have 30-plus schools,” Evans said. “They all need further attention.”

Jon Riley, Executive Director, Napa Solano Labor Council grew up in American Canyon.

“Thirty years ago I was a student living on Rio Del Mar riding the bus to Vintage High School, which was then state of the art,” said Riley. Riley said ACHS can provide the opportunity for students to “get into the trades and build facilities like this one.”

Brett Risley represents Sheet Metal Workers’ local union 104. A Napa native, Risley worked for Bell Products, the HVAC contractor for the school, during the construction.

“The high school construction provided thousands of hours (of work) for our members,” said Risley. 

In addition to jobs, the labor-conservation alliance claims there are significant cost savings to going green, citing a U.S. Green Building Council report that says green schools can save $100,000 per year on operating costs — enough to hire at least one new teacher, buy 200 new computers, or purchase 5,000 textbooks.

Pope said his vision is for American Canyon High to be the norm in a few years time.

“In five years I don’t want this to be the greenest school in America,” said Pope.

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