Old Trail School earns award for green practices

by Laura Bednar

It’s only fitting that a school nestled in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park would be environmentally friendly.

Old Trail School on Ira Road in Bath earned an award from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for encouraging environmental excellence in education. The award recognizes K-12 public and private schools using a recognition system symbolized by a root, branch and leaf. Old Trail received the highest level, leaf.

Associate Head of School Joe Vogel cited three of the school’s major green initiatives, starting with a 1,250-panel solar array. “The array is a testament to how we view ourselves as citizens and residents of the valley,” he said.

The array, installed in 2014, was recently renamed the Forhan solar array (several Forhan children attended Old Trail). It is a free-standing array on the southeast part of campus and produces 304kW of energy, one-third of the power needed to run the school.

More electricity is produced during the day than the school needs, so the excess energy is stored in the electrical grid for a renewable energy company to purchase at a discounted rate. In the winter, Vogel said the panels are angled so snow slides off.

The array has an educational component, as students and visitors can view a display in the school lobby that tracks the energy the array uses and produces in real time. “It’s cool to make that visible in the school and relative to the community,” said Vogel.

Riders on the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad can see the array from the train; Vogel said conductors can explain the solar array and its connection to the school.

“It’s one of the largest arrays in Summit County,” said Vogel.

Water treatment

Old Trail has one of three “Living Machines” in the state, according to Vogel, which naturally treats and purifies waste water. The machine acts as a wetland in the way it filters water to remove bacteria and returns it to the earth. Vogel said the machine appears to be a grassy area with rocks, but there is a glass house with a computer inside that runs the machine.

A water basin in the machine acts as a wetland, killing bacteria in the water. Some water is absorbed back into the earth while the rest trickles into a stream on campus that empties into the Cuyahoga River.

Vogel said the school has an Ohio EPA permit that states the water meets clean standards and is allowed to filter into the river.

“It’s more environmentally friendly because it filters the water naturally,” said Vogel, noting the alternatives would be a septic system that drains to an Akron waste facility or a chemical treatment similar to what small businesses that are unable to connect to city waste systems use.

The living machine was installed in 2008, and an additional water tank was added in 2012.

Food compost

Students at Old Trail try to compost much of the food waste from the cafeteria. The waste is collected in buckets and taken from the dining room to the on-campus farm to be added to the compost pile.

Vogel said students participate in hands-on farming, but the area is also used for nature-based learning and play, especially for younger children. Three- and four-year-olds in preschool “learn from the natural world” daily in a space on the farm surrounded by white pine trees, according to Vogel.

The solar array, Living Machine and farm were visible along the route of Old Trail’s inaugural on-campus 5K race held this summer. ∞

The “Living Machine” water treatment system includes a glass house with a computer that runs the machine.

Photo (main / above): The free-standing solar array can be seen from the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad. Photos submitted