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image Project: The Bertschi Center

The Bertschi Center


Educator Narrative

At our school we understand the importance of nurturing and creating systems that are healthy for people and the planet. We recognize the role of young people in shaping a sustainable society, and our students learn about the interdependence of living things and the Earth. Through hands-on investigations, children from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade develop a sense of wonder and caring for the natural world. Students track resource use and practice conservation and stewardship. These experiences form the foundation of a sustainability ethic, which is a core value of our school. Sustainability weaves together environmental and social responsibility and prioritizes economic systems that are good for people and the planet.

Our new LEED Gold building enhances and extends student learning about sustainability. The building models responsible resource use and inspires creativity and conservation. It showcases alternatives to traditional building materials and demonstrates that green design can result in beautiful, functional learning environments. Our students have been tracking their waste, water and energy use for the past several years, and the building adds to this learning by illustrating how consumer choices can reduce human impact. The building was completed in May 2007, and we have just begun to use it as a teaching tool.

During construction, the architect and contractor worked with our students to share information about the green building process through tours and class visits. Some of the sustainable features that integrate with our sustainability teaching and learning include o 1) a rainwater collection system that stores roof runoff in large steel cisterns 2) a green roof that covers the entry walkway; 3) solar panels and a weather station; 4) rapidly renewable materials like wheatboard wall panels, and a bamboo gym floor; 6) building products with recycled content such as aluminum and steel; and 7) native and drought tolerant gardens. Currently we are finalizing 15 interpretive signs which will explain these features and more and make them accessible and interesting to students. The signs include places to hang student work In addition, a touch screen monitor and a cut-away display in the foyer will help students dig deeper to learn more.

One of main goals is that students will expand their thinking about sustainability and the role that each person plays in building a positive future. Through questions like “how can you save energy today?” or “can you imagine any other products made of rapidly renewable materials?” our interpretive signs will stimulate creative thinking about how to make the world a better place. We aim to give children the knowledge and confidence to problem-solve, collaborate, and innovate. The building encourages people to ask big questions and use their big imaginations to come up with answers. We believe that our LEED Gold building broadcasts an important message about our school’s commitment to sustainability to our students, staff, and parents. It reflects our core values and will enhance important learning for our students. We hope it will inspire the broader community as well.

What exemplary ideas do the designs contain that enhance learning?

Unlike the typical school program, compact and efficient indoor and outdoor recreation space provide students with the opportunity for physical education with our committing large areas of resource intense land for sports fields or impervious play areas. The collaborative and thoughtful decision to revisit the drought tolerant but non-native landscape design provided multiple benefits. Areas for outdoor education provide the students with an urban opportunity to explore native environments. Parent and staff passion for habitat influenced the decision to encourage urban wildlife and a connection to nature that is often missing on school sites. A conscious effort was made to choose site materials that are sustainable and have the lowest long term impact on the environment. Recycled and locally available materials were used and life cycle of materials was considered.

Sustainable Features
As a school, the center strives to make sound environmental choices not only because it’s the right thing to do but also to inspire students and ingrain in them a philosophy of environmental stewardship. The new project incorporates photovoltaic panels which will supply 7% of the school’s energy. Some of these are designed into a canopy structure where they will be highly visible to all. The school has also committed to purchasing “Green Tags” from the local utility to offset the environmental impacts for their remaining electrical energy needs and to promote the advancement of alternative energy sources. The design takes advantage of Seattle’s temperate environment and provides windows in the classrooms. The gym has an integral natural ventilation scheme which uses fresh air coming in low at the roll up doors and the natural stack effect of hot air and vents high with operable louvers in the skylights tied to a thermostat. The scale and proportion of the building enhance it’s ability to use daylight to illuminate the spaces. A daylighting study was used to optimize window and skylight size and placement for this use. Occupancy and daylight sensors are used to minimize the use of electric lighting.

In the art gallery lobby, an interactive touch screen kiosk was installed to help students and visitors understand all of the green features and strategies built into the project; all of the sustainable features of the building and it’s systems are recorded and made available to the children as part of the curriculum thru this monitor. The photovoltaic panels, for example will report the energy they generate. The school will also be installing a weather station on the roof which will also report to this kiosk. The students will easily be able to correlate weather patterns with building energy consumption.

What innovations in the planning, programming and design process supported the realization of those exemplary ideas?

Throughout the design of the Center, the partnership conducted a number of Eco-Design Charettes which involved not only the school and design team but also other sustainability experts from the region, including representatives from Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development’s Green Building Program and the Puget Sound’s Integrated Design Lab.

Design collaboration with the Integrated Design Lab’s allowed the design team to study multiple lighting control and light system scenarios both with digital simulations and physical lighting models. They also assisted in analysis of daylighting options that guided the size and placement of skylights in the gym. Their hour-by-hour performance data on the electric lighting control system system and effectiveness of daylighting was then utilized by our mechanical engineers as part of an energy model that could predict the amount reduced energy load.

The primary firm collaborated extensively with the school to make every sustainable design decision for the project part of their Integrated Curriculum.

Recognized Value Award 2008



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