Changing blueprints to green prints

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Mountain Elementary students take part in a water audit

By The Staff

“One Mississippi, two Mississippi…,”  students in Laura Patterson’s fifth grade class counted as they filled plastic bags with water from the bathroom faucets of Mountain Elementary School.  This activity was part of a water audit done by the students in the Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) program as an important step in their quest to create a more sustainable Mountain school.


Matthew Dickens, Department of Public Utilities Water and Energy Conservation Coordinator, and Tom Nagawiecki, Los Alamos County Environmental Services Specialist, have been assisting the students in this quest and provided guidance during the water audit.

The plastic bags the students were using are known as flow rate bags and they include tick marks on the side that helped the students determine the flow rate of each faucet tested.  With flow rate bags in hand, the students hustled around the hallways of Mountain Elementary from bathroom to bathroom excited to find if the next faucet would be as efficient as the last.  

The students found that the average bathroom faucet at Mountain Elementary uses 1.5 gallons per minute (gpm), which makes them quite efficient; high efficiency bathroom faucets use 1 gallon per minute.

Dickens, who has audited other schools in New Mexico that had bathroom faucets with flow rates as high as 4.5 gpm, said he was pleasantly surprised by the results.  But, Mountain Elementary School could further reduce their bathroom faucets to 1 gpm by taking advantage of the free aerators offered by the

Department of Public Utilities.

The students at Mountain School have been learning about Green Building practices and the LEED rating system in order to determine what they could do to make a more sustainable Mountain Elementary, or in the words of fifth grader Nick Pilat, “(turn) the blueprints to green-prints.”  

The response from the students has been very positive. “By doing this project we will get a better education because we will be in a cleaner, healthier environment,” fifth grader Emily Brown said. “It feels good to know that our small involvement can make a huge difference in generations to come.”  

“It’s challenging and fun at the same time because for me it feels so much better to actually be doing something that’s real where I can make a difference,” classmate Tabitha Welch said.

Their teacher, Laura Patterson, is interested in this project for its impact on the school and the students. “With this type of active and engaged learning they can work toward a more energy efficient and environmentally friendly school environment,” she said. “When kids take part in the actual process of meaningful real life challenges and decision making, they truly take their education seriously and have fun doing it.”

To learn how to green your home, visit the new Los Alamos County sustainability Web site at www.losalamosnm.us/getgreen.