School districts across the Northwest are committing to sustainability – not despite the economy, but in some cases because of it.

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One such project is the $61.8-million Redmond High School in central Oregon. Skanska USA Building’s central Oregon office is the general contractor on the 276,000-sq-ft, two-story project.

Redmond School District sees benefits to seeking LEED gold beyond environmental stewardship. “Sustainability means less operating costs,” says Jerry Milstead, construction project manager with the district. “If you look at K-12 throughout the U.S. and certainly in Oregon, that’s where the problem is: funds for operations. So if you can reduce that electric or heating bill or the maintenance of the floors, you minimize the expense to operate and maintain the physical plant.”

Concrete floors will reduce cleaning and maintenance costs, while interior hard wall surfaces such as masonry should suffer less wear and tear over drywall.

Designed for 1,400 students, the project contains 32 classrooms, 17 labs, student collaboration areas and theatrical and athletics facilities.

Skanska is using a 500-ton capacity crane to lift the 172 concrete tilt-up panels required for the job. Just about every panel is different, ranging in weight from 20,000 to 183,000 lbs, says John Williamson, the firm’s senior project manager. Using tilt-ups will save approximately 50% over the cost of the originally specified wall system, he adds.

The project includes 61kw of photovoltaics. Most are located in a large rooftop array, but Williamson says a smaller grouping will act as an educational tool. Students can track the effect of different degrees of sunlight and see how much electricity the panels generate.

The project, designed by Portland-based DOWA Architects, is expected to be completed by March 2012.

Jesuit High School Elorriaga Center

Portland’s Jesuit High School broke ground on a new state-of-the-art classroom and lab building this summer. The new Elorriaga Center for Science and Mathematics is also being built by Skanska.

In addition to providing much-needed classroom space, the new 17,821-sq-ft, $5.6-million project will be built to LEED gold certification standards.

“We’re very excited to be able to fully integrate our commitment to sustainability into our curriculum through this innovative new green building,” says Jesuit High School President John Gladstone.

Science and advanced mathematics classes will be housed together to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration and prepare students for college and the working world. The project will also house the school’s new Robotics and Environmental Sciences programs.

The building will be complete by spring and was designed by Portland-based Soderstrom Architects, P.C.

Finn Hill Junior High School

The Lake Washington School District anticipates the replacement Finn Hill Junior High School that broke ground this summer will become the district’s most sustainable building.