Girls in Hard Hats: Green Design and Construction Meet Learning

Article excerpt

A school construction project also can create incredible, real-life learning experiences for students

Now, I need to warn you. Construction means dust, noise, and inconvenience... but in the end you will have wonderful new facilities for your students." Thus, John Sanner, vice-president of Regency Construction Services, Inc., brought my feet back down to earth as we began scheduling a $7.1 million dollar construction project at Our Lady of the Elms High School in Akron, Ohio, in the spring of 2008. After two and half years of brainstorming, dreaming, planning and preparing, the hard work was about to begin. While I knew that there would be learning opportunities, I had no idea how tremendous the experience would be, not only for my students but also for me. If you are preparing to embark on a school construction project, you can create incredible, real-life learning experiences for your students, too, if you partner with businesses that have a commitment to education.

An all-girls Catholic school founded in 1923, Our Lady of the Elms High School needed several updates. The design of the current facility was forward thinking such that the academic wing of the building, although built in the late 1960s, still seems contemporary. However, the gymnasium was typical of all-girls schools and colleges built prior to Title IX. With seating for 75 fans and only 15 feet of runoff for players and no visitors' locker room, our athletic facilities did not serve the needs of female student-athletes today. Through the tremendous generosity of three alumnae and several major donors, we completely renovated our 50-seat theater, converted our old gymnasium into a new dance studio, fitness center, visitors' locker room, storage spaces and offices, and added a new 340-seat, state-of-the-art gymnasium. In addition, a complete update of our heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system has made the school more energy efficient while saving money on utilities. All of this meant unique learning opportunities for our students.

Forming the Junior Core Team

The learning started with the Junior Core Team, a program for students to participate in many facets of the construction project. Regency Construction Management Services, Inc., of Lakewood, Ohio, was selected by our leadership team for two main reasons. First, the company offers the Junior Core Team program as part of every school construction project. Secondly, among our bidders, Regency had the highest percentage of women working throughout their company, including president and owner Tari Rivera. John Sanner is the other half of the creative genius behind the Junior Core program. Rounding out the partnership for student learning was the architectural firm of Doty & Miller, the only architectural firm in the nation with a freestanding Leader in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold Certified office building.

The Junior Core Team began with students in grades 6 through 11 applying for the 22 Junior Core Team positions; the Regency staff reviewed the applications and selected the team. The first meeting was held during the school day at the Elms. The Junior Core Team was introduced to the scope of a construction project, timeline, major team players (architects, engineers, construction managers, construction workers, subcontractors and their specialties) and responsibilities. The team then learned what they and the actual construction team must do in order to complete effectively the important work ahead of them. In addition, each student was presented with her own personalized construction hat. From then on, it was hands-on learning and a mixture of fantastic field trips - for which construction hats were necessary.

Going Green

Housed in a renovated United States Post Office, Doty & Miller's office in Bedford, Ohio, was the Junior Core Team's first destination. Students were in awe of the "cool" and "contemporary" design with signage explaining the significance of each element of sustainable design throughout the building. …