Looking for alternatives to the typical education available for their own kindergarten child, Mark and Gretchen Biedron established the Willow School, the first independent school in the U.S. to achieve a LEED Gold certification. Founded on the precepts of hands-on learning, respect for one another, and respect for the outdoors, it comes as no surprise that ecological responsibility and sustainability were huge factors in creating both the curriculum as well as the campus buildings.
When the Biedrons realized that environmental preservation was an important facet of preparing children for their futures, they were already deep into the construction drawings of their rapidly evolving school. Design was halted so that the Biedrons could take two months to educate themselves (Mark became a LEED accredited professional) on what factors should be prioritized in shaping the school.
The Biedrons did extensive research on locally available products and recycled materials. The barn frame structures holding up the four main buildings were fabricated from salvaged lumber – without the use of nails or steel. “It’s all mortised in just like an old barn using pegs,” says Biedron. Other materials were salvaged to make the windows, doors and trim, and many recycled materials were used for the ceilings, roofs, sidewalks, paving, tile – the list goes on and on. And what about the site? For starters, the few trees that were cut down for construction were sent to Amish woodworkers to provide furniture for the school.
But do these kids realize what effect all this has? If the photo-voltaics don’t clue them in, there is a monitor in the school’s lobby, tied into all of the school’s power and plumbing systems. Here, the students can literally see the consequence of turning on the tap, or opting not to turn on an extra light. “Now the building becomes a teacher.”