Kids at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C., love their new 'green' campus.
What has light, fresh air, and is a great place to learn?Skip to next paragraph
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An ecofriendly middle school.
At Sidwell Friends Middle School in Washington, D.C., one of the newest teachers on campus this year is a building. From top to bottom it's energy efficient, environmentally friendly, and an inviting place to learn everything from science to singing.
It all started when the school needed more classroom space. Instead of tearing down the existing building, a construction crew brought in a bulldozer to clear out the interior, and an L-shaped addition went up beside it. The new, U-shaped building is filled with earth-friendly features, but the spacious rooms with huge windows are the first things you notice.
"The extra natural light in the classrooms really keeps you awake and enjoying the day," says Isabel Dorval, a ninth-grader at Sidwell.
Walkways made of what?
The architects chose natural, recycled, and renewable materials wherever possible. Most of these could be used with minimal impact on the environment. Doors were made with a veneer of bamboo (a fast-growing grass), bulletin boards with cork (which can be harvested without cutting down trees), and cabinets from wheatboard (which is made of wheat straw – the part of the plant that's left over after the grain is harvested).
Old materials were also reused in new ways. Bleachers from another school were used to make the window trim. Wood for walkways came from a pier in Baltimore. The "skin" on the outside of the building was made with wood from wine casks. The sun is turning the boards a beautiful silvery gray.
On the roof, tall, glass-sided chimneys vent warm air, creating a current that pulls cool, fresh air through the building's north-facing windows. Sixth-graders tend rooftop beds of herbs that they cut and bring to the cafeteria. Native plants help insulate the building and filter rain-water that flows through downspouts to the landscaped area below.
Instead of planting a grass lawn, the school created a terraced wetland area and pond by the main entrance. The area has become a hands-on science lab where students take water samples, identify microorganisms, and study wildlife.
Another important purpose of the wetlands is to treat the water from sinks and toilets.
Waste goes into an underground tank, where tiny organisms begin to break it down. Then it filters through plants, rock, and sand in the wetland and back through the building to be used in sinks and toilets and to cool machinery. Fresh water in drinking fountains comes from the city supply. The school uses about 90 percent less water than a traditionally built school of the same size.
"My favorite place is probably the benches outside by the wetlands," says Isabel. "It feels like it's a little habitat out there because you're enclosed on three sides by the building. There's a mural that illustrates the sedimentation process. That brings awareness of what's happening right in front of you. That's very neat."
Lessons from the building