Sierra Vista Herald, Mark Levy) MANDATORY CREDIT, Associated Press
A Turner Construction Company worker guides one of the two 25,000 gallon rainwater harvesting tanks in place Wednesday, Jan. 4, 2012 at the Col. Smith Middle School construction site on Fort Huachuca, Ariz. A new, replacement middle school on the post will be the first “net zero” energy education facility in the state and only the 12th in the country.

FORT HUACHUCA, Ariz. — A new, replacement middle school on the post will be the first "net zero" energy education facility in the state and only the 12th in the country. On Wednesday, another step toward that goal was taken with the start of installation on a water harvesting system.

Representatives of the Fort Huachuca Accommodation School District gathered at the construction site of the Col. Smith Middle School, which will be a facility geared to the growing national interest in science, technology, engineering and math education. Others at the Wednesday ceremony included the garrison commander, construction workers and spectating "sidewalk engineers," all of whom watched as two 25,000 gallon water tanks were put into the ground.

Col. Timothy Faulkner said the water harvesting project will support the post's and the Army's efforts to reduce the use of water, along with other utility savings programs being incorporated into the new school facility.

"It will be meeting the Army's net zero goal," the garrison commander said.

And there will be a two-for, because part of the school's curricula calls for outside environmental classes which means, "kids will have a living lab," Faulkner said.

To be able to experience such things "usually means kids have to go to a university," he added.

Tony Wall, the construction project manager, said there is a lot to the water harvesting system besides putting in the two tanks, each of which are large enough to hold two great white sharks, according to fort officials. At this time, there are no plans to bring any sharks to the area to demonstrate that the containers can hold the denizens of the seas, fort officials assured this week.

There is still more which has to be done to complete the water harvesting system, which will include installing pumps and running nearly a mile of pipe, Wall said.

Each tank weighs 5,600 pounds and the water harvested to fill the tanks will be generated from rainwater, he said.

The water will be used to irrigate the landscaping and the outdoor athletic field, Wall said.

As part of the STEM education, the middle school students will have the opportunity to monitor the system from inside the school and will be able to enjoy outdoor classes in landscapes watered by the system, he said, adding that the school district will not have to pump water from the aquifer.

It's not only the water harvesting system which will serve both utility and educational purposes, Wall said.

Because the school design will use a great deal of glass and with solar and wind units producing electricity, it is expected the facility will "produce more energy than it uses," he said.

For School Superintendent Ronda Frueauff, the excitement of seeing the school heading toward completion to be used in the next school year will provide middle school students more educational benefits.

The cost of the school is estimated to be $20 million, with the funds coming from special federal dollars provided to Arizona in lieu of taxes and held by the state until the school district needs the money.

The district is building its third new facility, meaning the three-school system — kindergarten through eighth-grade — will be all be fairly new.

The Fort Accommodation School District is not part of the Department of Defense School System in the United States. It receives educational funding from the state based on student population, as other public schools do, and teachers and staff are state employees.

Frueauff said what she sees the new middle school providing is "another step in understanding the environment and its sustainability."

Having the opportunity to incorporate an outdoor learning experience will benefit the students beyond classroom work, she said.

Within the school, students will be able to monitor every aspect of energy by having an access to a "dashboard," where they can view use and savings, the superintendent said.

Also at the tank lowering event — the tanks were put into a 15-foot deep hole and will be covered — was Cado Daily, of the University of Arizona's Cooperative Extension's Waterwise Program.

Although not officially involved in the fort's program, Daily said she sees what is happening on the post as something which can be done in communities off the fort.

"It's an excellent example of what can be done in communities," she said, adding she sees individuals and businesses may take advantage of similar systems to help conserve water.

"I think we are on the cusp of something new," Daily said.

Information from: Sierra Vista Herald, http://www.svherald.com