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Teaching with environmental design

Trillium Creek Primary keeps it natural and aims for LEED Silver
by: Vern Uyetake, Every classroom has a colorful

Uniquely modern, the new Trillium Creek Primary School honors its surroundings while incorporating green technology and design into its building, always considering what the building itself can teach the students who will walk the halls beginning this September.

Before the school year begins this fall, teachers will receive training on the story of the school so that they can pass on the knowledge to their students. A book is also being created to tell the history of the site and explain various features of the construction.

The 20-acre property was purchased by the West Linn-Wilsonville School District from the Erickson family in the 1980s. The land was formerly an orchard and a dairy farm. In 2008, the school district passed a bond that is funding the construction of Trillium Creek, as well as a nearly identical school, Lowrie Primary in Wilsonville.

The design maintains some of the wooded natural setting and aims to achieve the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver award for the 23-classroom building. Construction should be substantially complete on June 15, said Tony Vandenburg, the project manager hired by the school district.

Mindful of the school's namesake, the project carved out a footprint for the building by creating new wetlands for the headwaters of Trillium Creek. Subject to rules set by the Oregon Department of State Lands, a wetland biologist determined the depth of the water table and figured out the volume of wetlands the school district needed to create. Workers moved the former Trillium Creek within the property and increased the wetlands area to one acre.

'Students will be able to view the wetlands from their classrooms,' said Vandenburg.

Nestled back onto the property, the school is encircled by a 100-year old stand of Douglas Fir trees and other natural plant species. Throughout construction, contractors have been working to remove invasive species and revitalize the area with native plants. Patches of the land were maintained as completely natural spaces, while a finished lawn area closest to the school also provides outdoor space for children.

All of this can play a role in students' education, said Vandenburg.

The building contains a plethora of environmentally friendly features.

Within the actual building, the architects worked to incorporate a 'demonstration of the flow of water,' said Karina Ruiz, an associate principal architect with Dull Olson Weekes-IBI Group Architects, Inc.

The water cycle is intentionally visual for the kids. Water catchment drains, a V-shaped roof, plants and a waterfall installation are all features that direct rainwater to three underground tanks to be filtered before either entering the wetlands or being reused to flush toilets in the building.

Solar panels will be installed above the walkway at the front of the school, and the property will also have one wind turbine.

To keep the technology at kid-level, a meter inside the building will illustrate how much energy the school is using each day from each power source. It will be translated into terms such as 'enough power to run a stereo' for x-amount of time.

Lights will automatically dim to the optimal level, and the building will also have motors that open the central windows automatically to create natural ventilation. A sensor on the roof will stop the windows from opening when its raining. In the classrooms, a green light near the light switches will tell the kids when the temperature outside is perfect for opening the windows.

The project uses green construction materials - low-VOC adhesives and paints, Green Seal carpets, recycled steel - and sources materials from within a 500-mile radius when possible.

The school also will have super-efficient water heaters and boilers.

'It's initially more expensive but the payoff is so much more in the end,' said Vandenburg.

Architects also incorporated the kids' ideas into the building. During the design process, they visited schools to ask about what they wanted in a school, said Ruiz.

'There was a kid that said, 'I want to be the captain of my own learning,' and that kind of stuck in our craw,' said Ruiz.

A lot of students said that the only spaces that felt like their spaces were the hallways and the bathrooms.

To remedy that the architects created 'oriels' or bay window seats into each classroom. Additionally, every five classrooms has a 'porch' or common space with built-in seating on steps or other crevices that kids can crawl into.

The library, which is the central part of the school, has some of its own special kid-friendly spaces meant for reading, including a bird's nest that is perched in the columns of the room and is accessible by a walkway from the second floor. A twisty slide also makes an entrance from the second floor down into the library.

Each floor has its own kitchen with a dumbwaiter between the two. Designed to fit the district's model for lunch, there is no cafeteria. Instead, students can take their lunch back to their porches or classrooms.

The kindergarten wing includes its own kitchen, bathroom and separate entrance leading to the kindergarten play structure.

All of the classrooms have their own water fountain and sink.

The school will also have a room for a kiln, two outdoor classrooms and a rock wall in the gym.



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