ON ARCHITECTURE- Green ambition: Waldorf's green school recognized
Recently, the Charlottesville Waldorf School drew one step closer to realizing its $6.1 million dream of building the "greenest school in America" on 13 acres just off Rio Road. A May article in LA-based Dwell magazine highlighted the way the school realized that building green meshed nicely with its teaching philosophy, and how that realization has turned into a movement to change the way schools everywhere are built. That was the kind of attention that school directors have been looking for, and in December, they got an unexpected surprise.
"In California it was so amazing to have this big arm grab us up and single us out," says Charlottesville Waldorf Foundation co-chair Marianne Lund. "It was awesome."
At a ceremony in Los Angeles, Dwell readers and editors awarded the school its "Nice Modernist Award," which recognizes groups and individuals for "engaging and thoughtful" design. According to Lund, the folks at Dwell were amazed to hear how little attention has been given to building green schools, something they hoped to change with the award.
"From the very beginning, our mission has been to make the Charlottesville Waldorf School a model of affordable and sustainable building for schools, corporations, and individuals everywhere," says CWF Chair Sarah Tremaine.
Sadly, the school's ambitious green school project has received less attention, and even less consideration, here at home. According to Lund, while Albemarle County officials are pleased with the pending project, in the meanwhile, they had agreed to renovate the building the school occupies in Crozet. Instead, the County refused to renew the school's lease. Now the school has had to scramble to build school space on the Rio site, a project separate from the green building project, which has taken energy from the capital campaign. Indeed, as Rio Road travelers know, the site of the "greenest school in America" has been nothing but a sign and short dead-end road for a long time.
Still, the school's enthusiasm for the project shows no sign of abating.
"When you build a green home, you change a family," says Lund, who also has three children at the school, "but when you build a green school, you change a community. Personally, I've always known this is more of a movement we're starting than a building project. Out in California, that was really affirmed."
Lund says they hope many other schools will take the green school's design as a model. To that end, the project is seeking to be certified platinum by the U.S. Green Building Council, which bases its rigorous environmental certification on six key categories: sustainable sites, energy and atmosphere, water efficiency, materials and resources, indoor environmental quality, and innovation and design process.
"We merely set out to build a green school, and were amazed to learn that there were no others with this level of certification," says Tremaine.
"We're going to become the first platinum certified school in the country," says Lund.
Designed by Charlottesville architect Ted Jones, the 19,000-square-foot building will use straw bale SIP panels configured to capture breezes on the site, feature a "living roof" made of grass, and will be oriented in a way to take full advantage of the sun's energy.
"We're only mid-way through the design documentation," says Jones, " we feel we've only scratched the surface in terms of design innovation for the building."
Lund points out that each classroom will be a self-sustaining unit as opposed to rooms within a larger building, so that the model can be easily reproduced no matter how many students need to be accommodated.
The Charlottesville Waldorf School is one of about 150 schools in the country following a curriculum developed by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner to emphasize more creativity and free thinking in the learning process, a philosophy that the Charlottesville Waldorf School has used to embrace environmentalism. For example, Waldorf students have been recycling for decades, and the school has an active composting program, which third-graders traditionally take charge of while they learn about biology.
"The Steiner-Waldorf philosophy has always been one of grounding the childhood experience in the natural world," Lund told Dwell in May. "So we came to a point where we realized that if we're going to match the building process with our school philosophy, there really is no alternative but to build green."
Now all they have to do is find the money. According to Lund, the school is still looking for a lead donor for the project. They've raised nearly half of the $6.1 million needed for the school, which they hope to have open for the 2008-2009 school year. Meanwhile, Lund says, the "little green" buildings being constructed on the site should be ready to accommodate kindergartners and grades 1 through 8 by the fall of 2007.
Architect Ted Jones' rendering of what the Charlottesville Waldorf School hopes will be the "greenest school in America."
PHOTO COURTESY TED JONES ARCHITECTURE