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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Mar/Apr 2002 : What Makes It Green : Magical by Design


What Make's It Green?
"Magical" by Design

When Mithun set out to design and build the Puget Sound Environmental Learning Center, they wanted to keep one thing in mind: their true “clients.” In this case, the end-users were 4th and 5th graders, and keeping the experience “magical” for the children was a primary vision of creator and designer Debbi Brainerd’s.

“During the early project programming phase it became apparent that the ‘flow’ of the children through the site and buildings was an important part of how they would interact with the learning center,” says Bert Gregory, AIA, principal-in-charge and design team leader for the project. “We called this the ‘experiential timeline,’ and it became a touchstone as we made choices during the design process.”



Six Submissions to the annual "What Makes It Green?" exhibit.

Such choices included keeping vehicles other than service or emergency limited to a specified perimeter of the main site, so that the kids would immediately be exposed to the forest environment of the 255-acre site as they tote their gear in pull carts from a Welcome Shelter to a Friendship Center for the duration of the four-day program.

Though the children were a primary factor in the design process, Gregory explains, “The greatest lesson brought into focus for us was the importance of considering buildings as part of the site’s ecosystem.” As a pre-pilot project for the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED™ program (version 1.0), a detailed site and resource analysis for master planning was used to locate campus buildings to have minimal impact with sensitive areas on site, including older, more mature forests and wetlands. These areas evolved into what became designated as the Educational Core, where buildings were off limits and trails and site structures were carefully planned to access learning opportunities for the children.

Structural systems such as roof trusses, wood shear walls and concrete slabs exposed on the interior eliminated the need for extra finish materials, and 100 percent of interior trim and 50 percent exterior siding used site-harvested trees that were cleared when siting the buildings. Buildings feature 90 percent recycled content carpeting, countertops made from soybeans and recycled yogurt containers, recycled glass content tiles and other recycled or renewable materials, such as bamboo, recycled content rubber and salvaged fir wood flooring. In fact, over 75 percent of construction waste was recycled, providing more learning opportunities for the students. An artist-made scale, for example, was designed for children to weigh food waste during the course of their visit, and computer monitoring of building water and energy use used throughout the campus serves as another learning tool.

Natural ventilation replaced air conditioning by using computer modeling to locate window opening and operable skylights for maximum through-ventilation. Low VOC-finishes, adhesives and sealants used throughout the project also contribute to the fresh air provided into all spaces, with the help of photovoltaic-powered fans.

Photovoltaic panels on the roof of the Learning Studio, which now features a Sustainable Design classroom, use sunlight to power over 50 percent of lighting and electrical needs, including fans and circulating pumps. Roof-mounted solar hot water heating panels also provide over 50 percent of the demand for the Dining Hall and Visitor Lodges.

A larger issue in the design and construction process was water. Since there is no sewer system on south Bainbridge Island where the site is located, “it was important to figure out a way to resolve this issue in the most environmentally way possible,” Gregory says. It was determined that the water should be treated to a tertiary level prior to returning it into the groundwater. The Puget Sound center has two biological systems for treating water to this level—a constructed wetland system and a series of wetland cells to process and clean wastewater to a tertiary level. The second of the two systems is a “Living Machine,” which is a biological treatment system contained within a greenhouse.

“Both systems provide very clean water, in fact, water so clean that the last cell within our greenhouse will be an aquarium with fish and other aquatic species,” Gregory said.

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