By Craig Mason, AIA, LEED AP, DLR Group Principal,
In many buildings, sustainability is invisible. It's an unnoticed breath of clean air; it's the reduced use of water in the bathroom; or it's the history of the material you're standing on while your attention is focused on your activity. But at Pioneer Middle School in DuPont, Wash., the value of sustainable choices and building features is not only visible, it is linked to every day learning.
DLR Group led six design workshops, including an eco-charette, with the school district and patrons to develop design goals and an integrated sustainable design program. The project team then went one step further and collaborated with educators over a span of eight months to develop specific sustainability curricula and means to incorporate the Pioneer Middle School building as a tool in the educational experience. The ultimate example includes exposed building systems, lesson plans, teaching aids and building signage.
Educating students, staff and the community about energy conservation, specifically the impact of routine activities and individual habits on energy use, was a priority of the district. The design solution is an energy measuring device that provides students with water, gas and electricity data, as well as past/present weather information.
This "green touchscreen" is prominently positioned at the main public entrance. A network of energy sensors throughout the building streams constant energy consumption data to the touchscreen display that is accessible by students, staff and visitors. A graphic readout of building resource consumption allows teachers to conduct hands-on coursework and experiments so students can learn about responsible energy use within the context of a building designed for maximum energy efficiency.
Students also compare current energy use data against past history and standard school energy use to understand how the design of their new school positively impacts the environment.
A Sign of Knowledge
Interior and exterior signage highlights sustainable features as well as general building concepts to enhance middle school curricula. The signage demonstrates how the design reduced the building's environmental impact and how students can further engage in sustainable practices.
Through the signage visitors and students can learn how local resources were used to build their facility; ways they can recycle and reuse everyday products; educational performance and personal benefits of natural daylighting; and how to reduce waste through composting.
Students and visitors don't need to step inside the building for lessons in sustainable strategies. Outdoor learning opportunities are everywhere at Pioneer Middle School. Students can experiment with edible food and herb gardens, and monitor plant growth and composting in small learning patios just outside the academic wing.
Drought-tolerant and native vegetation make up Pioneer's landscape. These local plantings reduce irrigation needs and the use of maintenance chemicals, helping keep water clean.
Students and staff participate in a campus-wide recycling program with recycling stations located in each pod, in the commons and in the cafeteria. In addition, space has been provided for a food composting program to be integrated with the science, health and foods lab program.
The parking lot is a prime example of creative means to reduce pollution and improve air quality at Pioneer Middle School. On-site parking is minimized to support alternative transportation such as pedestrian and bike access, school bussing and public transportation. Special parking also is assigned for carpool and alternative fuel vehicles.
Creating Global Citizens
From the building design, to the building resources and the curricula, Pioneer Middle School is truly a lesson in sustainability. Students realize how small changes, such as minimizing energy usage, recycling, and composting, can affect the environment in a big way. The ultimate lesson at Pioneer Middle School teaches students to become global citizens.
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Published in American School Board Journal 2009 - Learning by Design annual