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Green Schools to Be Built With Donated Materials, Volunteers

December 22, 2011

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By Scott Blair
This story first appeared in Engineering News-Record

"Everybody who donates the components wants them to be their showcase products," says Alex Bertolini, project manager with the Phoenix office of Hensel Phelps Construction Co., the first schoolhouse's general contractor. "We get to play with the newest and most interesting systems out there." But it also means altering the typical project flow. "A company wanted to showcase a chilled-beam system—a totally different type of air-conditioning system than what you would find in a typical structure," he says. "All of a sudden the design needed to change to match what product [was] being offered."

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MEP engineer Heideman Associates, St. Louis, jumped at the chance to participate. "We had not designed a chilled-beam system before, so we were excited about this challenge," says Marlene Clark, the firm's division leader. “Displacement ventilation allows for less of the radical air flow so you don’t feel air conditioning kicking off and on the way you would with a traditional system.”

The Phoenix office of Stantec designed the school to include a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) classroom, health and wellness classroom, library, computer lab and a large multipurpose room which converts to a community room in the evenings. Outdoor learning classrooms and a garden integrate with a craft kitchen where children can prepare the same fruits and vegetables that they planted and harvested in the gardens, says project architect Annette Zacherson.

The Phoenix project will be constructed over a four-month build time. Included in that is a 30-day ‘publicity build,” which encourages members of the public with building experience to get involved—something Zotara likens to a traditional barn raising. Special attention has gone into tailoring the design to allow as much flexibility as possible to build ample tolerance to aid in the barn raising, Bertolini says. “But we don’t want to sacrifice quality just in order to get it done quickly, so that’s the fine line we are having to tread.”

Cause and Effect has pledged to follow up with each school for several years to make sure school staff know how to use the donated high-end technologies, which include white boards, audio-visual equipment and interactive teaching tools. For many students, it will be their first exposure to these types of classroom technologies.

John Dale, architect of the San Diego school with Harley Ellis Devereaux's L.A. office, says his firm may design for net zero, not just LEED-Platinum. The schoolhouse for San Diego Unified School District is still in preliminary design, but is expected to serve a unique role on a campus of four separate high schools. Acting as a community living room/commons, the building will be a catalyst for connecting the students from the different schools together, Dale says.

In the upcoming Seattle and L.A. schools, Zotara says they are "most likely moving forward with achieving the Living Building Challenge"—a certification only three buildings worldwide have received to date.

The critical mass of firms already participating in the Green Schoolhouse Series is helping to encourage more firms to become involved. “There’s an exciting camaraderie that develops between the design and construction industry, suppliers and schools on this type of venture,” Clark says. “You don’t always have this intimate of a relationship so deep into the construction of a building. That has been phenomenal.”

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