Students at Trillium Creek Primary learn about the schools eco features

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Karina Ruiz stands next to the rainwater collection tank at Trillium Creek Primary School.The 20-acre property was once an orchard and dairy farm. Today, the site hosts the West Linn-Wilsonville School District’s newest school, Trillium Creek Primary.

The primary school is nestled in nature. The wetlands near Trillium Creek fill a 1-acre space. At the back of the property, the school is encircled by a 100-year-old stand of Douglas fir trees and other natural plant species.

The uniquely modern school honors its surroundings, while incorporating green technology and design into its building. This school year, educators and architects are using the building’s green design to teach students about the flow of water, environmental stewardship, energy and energy consumption.

“We are calling the project ‘The Story of Our School,’” Principal Charlotte Morris said. “The project is about understanding the building, how to make it more efficient and how we as a school community can have an effect on that.”

Before the school year began this fall, teachers received training on the design features, which have been incorporated into the structure to provide learning opportunities for students. The book “The Story of Trillium Creek Primary School” was also created to tell the history of the site and explain various construction features.

This fall, students at every grade level were given tours of the building and interactive presentations. Students created informational videos and presented them to underclassmen. Students played “Jeopardy” to quiz themselves on the building’s ecological features and participated in “Amazing Race” style scavenger hunts to explore the natural areas surrounding the school.

“One of the funny things was our first real hard rain,” Morris said, referencing the school’s rainwater collection system. “We came into school the next day and our building engineer said, ‘Well, the system works because of the dirty water in the toilet.’ It was great for the kids to understand why that was and they thought it was cool. They thought, ‘Wow, we really are helping the environment.’ ”

Karina Ruiz, associate principal architect with Dull Olson Weekes-IBI Group Architects Inc., helped teach students the story of Trillium Creek during classes this fall.

“When we were in the early programming discussions with the school district one of the things we talked about was having the occupants of the building have a good understanding of not only design and suitability features but the design intent,” Ruiz said. “There are a lot of design features in this school that are shifting the paradigm of how education is defined at the primary level.”

Trillium Creek proves that in the 21st century, a school building is not a rudimentary compiling of brick and mortar — but an educational aid for students and administrators.

“We are really trying to engage the building as a teacher in as many ways as we could,” Ruiz said. “While there are bells and whistles and a slide — while that’s all fun — there are also really strong educational methods behind them.”

Administrators waited to teach the story of Trillium Creek until November so students would not only have the opportunity to settle into their new school, but become curious and pose questions about their surroundings.

“Students came to us prepared with questions like, ‘What does this do?’ and ‘What does it mean?’, which really allowed us to deepen the conversation,” Ruiz said. “Students learned the impact of turning on a light or opening a window, which helped them understand concepts of energy conservation.”

The ultimate goal of the project was twofold. First, to teach students through Trillium Creek’s design to become stewards of sustainability and secondly, to share this message with the community that passed the bond in 2008 and ultimately brought the project to fruition.

“We wanted to do this project so that kids would tell the story to their parents,” Ruiz said. “In turn, these parents won’t walk in and see these features as frivolous. Instead, they too will have a deeper understanding that this facility is a place students are learning from and engaging with. ... It’s story that continues to evolve.”

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