Three Village schools move toward sustainability

Three Village schools move toward sustainability

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On Feb. 13, parents of Setauket Elementary School students spoke to the board of education about establishing a districtwide sustainability and wellness task force. File photo

By Andrea Paldy

The Town of Brookhaven’s recent return to dual-stream recycling has been a wake-up call for many residents, forcing them to take a closer look at food waste and other remnants of daily consumption.

“We have an opportunity right now to lead by example, to teach our children how we can make small changes in our schools to help the environment.”

— Valerie Briston

In an effort to confront this new reality, two Three Village parents spoke to the school board Feb. 13 about establishing a districtwide sustainability and wellness task force.

“We have an opportunity right now to lead by example, to teach our children how we can make small changes in our schools to help the environment,” said Valerie Briston, a mother of three. “We are at a point now where we really need to focus on reducing our consumption of resources.”

Briston is working with other Setauket Elementary School parents who have approached their PTA about exploring ways to reuse classroom supplies, reduce the amount of waste at class parties, after-school events and in the cafeteria, and to “examine how things are delivered in eco-friendly packaging.”

Lindsay Day, a mother of two, is one of those parents. She recollected when she was a Setauket student, that she “learned very quickly about the positive environmental impact that waste reduction and recycling have on our delicate Long Island ecosystem.”

This is why, Day said, it is important that sustainability initiatives include education, as well as eco-friendly practices, such as transparent and thorough recycling, school gardens, composting programs to reduce lunch waste and the inclusion of school-grown fruits and vegetables in school meals.

“We are more than willing to try new things and see how they go.”

— Jeff Carlson

The district has been receptive to the parents’ suggestions and will launch a pilot program to increase sustainability at Setauket Elementary School, where the switch will be made from plastic to reusable utensils in the lunchroom.

“We are more than willing to try new things and see how they go,” said Jeff Carlson, assistant superintendent for business services for the school district.

Plastic cutlery costs the district about half a cent for each piece, Carlson said, adding that the district was able to order metal versions for around 11 cents each. The new reusable utensils would quickly pay for themselves after several uses and even save the district money, he said.

Carlson pointed to the district’s other eco-friendly efforts, such as working with the facilities director and custodial staff to put systems in place to make it easier to separate paper, plastics and metal for recycling. He also said he has spoken with parents at other schools about starting composting programs.

Board president Bill Connors agreed that sustainability is a pressing issue and is here to stay. Following the meeting, he and Superintendent Cheryl Pedisich said a task force is “something of interest.” The subject will be on the agenda of the board’s next executive meeting, Pedisich said.

This is not the first time the district has considered sustainability measures. In 2016, the board voted on the third phase of an energy contract with Johnson Controls to install solar panels on all of its buildings. However, the New York State Education Department has only just approved the district’s plans.

The panels, which will generate 2.3 megawatts of electricity, will cost about $7.7 million to install. The state will cover more than $5 million in building aid, and taxpayers will pay about $2.5 million, Carlson said. The installation should generate more than $10 million in savings over the term of the bond, along with additional savings beyond, according to Carlson. Installation is expected to begin this summer.