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Enjoy Magazine

Green And Golden

03/19/2013 03:26PM ● By Jon Lewis

Redding School of the Arts is More Than Green

story: Jon Lewis

The new Redding School of the Arts will not just be the home of teachers helping to prepare students for the future. The school itself—with its cutting-edge design—will be a teacher.

Students in the K-8 charter school, as well as their parents, community members and the country, courtesy of the Internet, will learn how a building can help both the environment and the learning process.

The 57,000-square-foot school, scheduled to open in 2010-11 on an oak-studded parcel across from the McConnell Foundation on Shasta View Drive, is expected to be just the fourth primary school in the country to achieve the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification.

The LEED rating, established by the U.S. Green Building Council, recognizes building designs that emphasize environmental and human health as well as energy savings and sustainability.

“It’s a real unique opportunity,” says Margaret Johnson, one of the co-founders of the school. “Building a school that’s environmentally friendly is important to the RSA for energy savings and teaching about the environment, but to build something LEED certified was beyond our financial considerations.”

However, through a partnership with the McConnell Foundation, Johnson says the project team was able to incorporate the best ideas from the top schools in the country. The philanthropic organization will build the school on foundation property and lease it back to RSA as a demonstration project.

Redding architect James Theimer, whose Trilogy Architecture firm designed the school, says he approached the project with three goals in mind: The school should inspire creativity; it should “act asa teacher itself of environmental solutions;” and its design should “serve as a path for other schools and other people to look at ways to make more environmentally friendly places for themselves.”

Theimer says he shies away from using the word “green,” as he finds it to be overused as a buzzword that’s lost its value. Instead, he leans toward time-honored and unsexy solutions, like orienting classrooms to the north to benefit from natural light and adding south-facing windows that can be opened for cross-ventilation.

“It’s something anybody can do. North light instantly gives you good things. There’s great daylight so you use less lights, there’s no glare so you can have views, and you don’t worry about gaining heat and you don’t need deep overhangs,” Theimer says.

By mixing one-story and two-story buildings, Theimer was allowed to stack classrooms to capitalize on the good light. Classrooms are matched up with open-air “semi-conditioned” hallways so kids are not going from hot to cold to hot. The result: Classrooms bathed in natural light and filled with fresh air that minimizes the spread of cold and flu bugs.

“These are really fundamental decisions, but it’s stuff that other schools can look at,” Theimer says. “Maybe they’ll not do a standard school like a big box or a horseshoe and think about studies that show us test scores and attendance goes up with better lighting and a lack of temperature extremes.”

The school will feature some exotic touches as well, including a rain screen wall system that protects from both the rain and the sun’s blistering heat while letting the building breathe.

A computerized lighting system will set levels based on available daylight. Teachers can override the system when needed, but they will be free from worrying about leaving the lights on all day.

Sidwell Friends, an exclusive Washington D.C.-based school that has a LEED Platinum rating, discovered that the computerized lighting system reduced its energy bill by 92 percent. “Sidwell Friends and Chartwell in Seaside are the poster children of high eco-friendly schools in the United States. When we’re finished, we expect to raise the bar even higher than those schools,” Theimer says.

RSA’s translucent roof will sport thin-film photovoltaic cells for generating electricity, and helix wind generators on the ground will demonstrate how the wind can be harnessed for power.

In lieu of the typical multipurpose room, RSA will have a covered 490-seat amphitheatre that will house dance and drama rooms. A simple reconfiguring will provide an outdoor performance space. The structure also will house four themed cafes that will allow students to interact with kids in different grades.

A building “dashboard” will be on permanent electronic display, and accessible on the Internet, to show how much energy is being consumed. “It’s a fascinating tool for kids to get an understanding of what happens,” Theimer says.

Green products will abound, including recycled rubber flooring and paints and carpet that are free of toxic chemicals. Underground storage tanks will collect rainwater to handle the school’s water needs; a bio swale will treat water collected from the parking lot; shade trees will cool concrete surfaces; and high-efficiency, light-emitting diode (LED) lights will provide a low-power lighting solution.

“Our ultimate goal is a healthy and creative learning environment with a minimal carbon footprint. We want to make it fun for kids to see how the environment can be protected,” Theimer says. And just as important, Theimer says, “we don’t want to take ourselves too seriously, which is pretty easy to do, so we have some fun. There’s a slide from the second to the first floor, so they can slide down. We want kids to really look forward to coming to school.”