USGBC North Carolina: Students help install LED lights at zoo | U.S. Green Building Council
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It’s not all that often that students have the chance to participate in the actual installation of new technology, but that is exactly what happened at the North Carolina Zoo this past fall. 

LED innovator Cree, Inc., partnered with USGBC to provide an opportunity for the students of Asheboro High School to work with Cree and local officials to upgrade the North Carolina Zoo’s multipurpose room through the installation of LED lights.

The project honored the Center for Green Schools Green Apple Day of Service, an international day of service meant to raise awareness about the importance of creating healthy, safe and productive learning environments for students. The day gives parents, teachers, students, companies and local organizations the opportunity to transform all schools into optimal learning environments through local service projects.

“Installing new Cree LED lighting is a way to teach students, teachers and administrators the importance of sustainable classrooms and how these features benefit the learning environment,” said Emily Scofield, Director, Community, USGBC North Carolina, in an email response.

Meeting a need

USGBC and Cree, Inc. became aware of the zoo’s need for a lighting upgrade in its multipurpose room when John Casadonte, vertical marketing manager for lighting at Cree, Inc., visited the zoo< to learn how the company could assist the zoo’s educational program.

“In one of my conversations with the team there, I thought about this zoo school area where a great deal of time is dedicated every day to bringing high school students in for educational purposes. They attend all different types of classes there, and it just so happens that it takes place in this multipurpose room. It’s a very big area, and it not only houses kids from an educational point of view, but there are also entertainment events that take place for the benefit of the zoo,” said Casadonte.

According to Casadonte, the multipurpose room was in great need of a lighting upgrade. The room was lit using a technology called metal halide, a unique light that is not typically found indoors.

“When [metal halide] is used indoors, it goes through a metamorphosis over its lifetime and it ends up throwing all types of strange light. So there was an opportunity to replace a room that had really unique light that was not very traditional,” said Casadonte.

Learning about energy efficiency

Cree offered new LED fixtures to be installed in the multipurpose room by onsite electricians, and students who were interested in the discussion of energy efficiency and sustainable operations and maintenance were invited to see a demonstration of the installation.

“These students were exposed to future career paths and business discussions on the economic benefits of energy efficiency provided by LED lighting,” says Scofield. “The students were truly engaged in the project, and the teachers shared that the students were exposed to an aspect of energy efficiency which they otherwise would not have known.” 

The actual installation went extremely smoothly, where installers only ran into the minor challenge of having to work around air conditioning ducts.

“When you pull open a tile, there are so many things running in the ceiling at that time, the complexity [of installing light] was ridiculous compared to now. When we install an LED light, we don’t need nearly half that stuff. We have technology in the 21st century that easily goes into the ceiling,” explained Casadonte.

Installing LED light in the zoo’s multipurpose room not only gave students a great learning experience on the Green Apple Day of Service, it will continue to provide them with an optimal learning experience every time they use the room. In comparison to the traditional lighting found in educational environments, LED lighting can help students stay focused longer.

Casadonte explained that traditional fluorescent light flickers, even though it is not often visible to the naked eye. Students’ brains are still affected by the flicker, though, and therefore fluorescents are not the best choice for lighting educational environments. In contrast, LED lighting does not flicker and does not distract students from learning.

Furthermore, LED lights have a longer lifespan compared to florescent lights. “Number one, the light itself will be a minimum 50 to 60 percent more efficient. You can burn the light longer at a cheaper cost and the color that you see is amazing. The light time of having to replace one of those fixtures is years,” said Casadonte.

The installation not only provided a great learning experience for high school students, but it also significantly reduced the amount of energy the zoo was using to light the multipurpose room.

“We reduced the energy by a lot, a think the numbers were near 70 percent, and we also reduced the number of fixtures that had to go into the ceiling, so that’s huge,” added Casadonte.

Once the installation was complete, the zoo held an event to show off the new LED lighting. As part of the presentation, the zoo only lit half of the multipurpose room, and the audience was essentially viewing the beginning of the presentation in the dark. As part of the live demonstration, the zoo turned on the other half of the room with the new LED lights.

“Half of the room was still outfitted with the metal halide and the other half with LEDS. That’s when the kids instantly got it. How do you get that through to a teenager in high school? How do you make that impactful? The whole idea of seeing it first hand was really impactful for them,” said Casadonte. “It was so surprising, the change in the room. I don’t think anybody who was sitting there wouldn’t recognize that.”

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