School District at center of broader efforts for sustainability

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Whitefish is ramping up its efforts to be sustainable, and to no surprise, the Whitefish School District wants to be a big part of it.

District curriculum director Ryder Delaloye and Nancy Woodruff presented on the district’s role in the city’s Climate Action Plan during a Whitefish School Board meeting last month. One chapter of the Climate Action Plan is devoted to issues related to Whitefish Schools.

Both Delaloye and Woodruff served on the Climate Action Plan Committee.

The Whitefish Climate Action Plan Committee was established by City Council last year and tasked with identifying opportunities for the city, school district and community to work on those overreaching goals for Whitefish. The primary focus of the plan is expected to be on municipal operations, while also collaborating with the School District and ways the city can support community efforts surrounding climate change.

Speaking to the trustees, Woodruff said the Climate Action Plan was spurred by observable changes to Whitefish and surrounding areas.

“Most of us who have lived here for awhile have probably noticed a difference and some changes in the climate,” she said. “It seems like the snow melts earlier in the spring, the lake doesn’t freeze as often, summers seems hotter and it seems like there’s less water in the streams in late summer, and in fact the observational data does back up that this is happening.”

Like the city, the district sets out key areas of sustainability practices, including building and energy use, water and landscaping, transportation, and consumption and waste, and lists goals for each area.

Delaloye said joining the city’s efforts helps hold the district accountable to their goals.

“Much of this are things that we’ve done that we’re building on,” he said. “What it does is it actually creates an accountability measure.”

For buildings and energy, the district is setting out to reduce energy use from the operation of buildings and appliances, use renewable energy and develop behavior strategies to minimize energy consumption. These can be achieved by upgrading lighting to a more efficient setup or using smart power strips that minimize energy use.

In water and landscaping, the district wants to reduce water consumption throughout the district for both irrigation and internal building use. Installing rain sensors to reduce irrigation waste and converting lawns to native plant areas are ways of achieving this.

In the realm of transportation, the district lists reducing emissions from school transportation, improving the efficiency of bus routes and examining the feasibility of alternative bus technologies as its goals. Encouraging walking and biking to school and participating in a Flathead Electric Co-operative study on electric buses are two ways the schools are pursuing these goals.

And for consumption and waste, the district wants to reduce paper use, increase waste diversion and purchase more environmentally friendly products.

In addition, the district is also adding an emphasis on education and outreach, focused on creating awareness and change in schools and in the community for sustainable action.

For this, the schools want to coordinate with educational providers to construct a program of learning, identify sustainability-related education opportunities and build partnerships to support learning about sustainability practices.

Understanding the impacts the changing climate will have on a variety of facets of Whitefish is important, Woodruff said.

“From the beginning, the city and committee was so excited that the school district was participating in the Climate Action Plan,” Woodruff said. “This is going to impact our lives in so many ways, from the long wildfire seasons and more smoke, it’ll affect the tourism economy, recreation and hunting, school sports — is it too smoky to play soccer today?”

The Climate Action Plan is expected to be celebrated during an Earth Day event on April 21, the same day that the district’s Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship is set to open. The event is scheduled for the center adjacent to Whitefish High School from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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