The spirit of the school has always been feeling and teaching sustainability. It was only natural to continue their efforts of sustainability into this building.
As part of its hands-on, nature-based curriculum, Learning Gate School has chosen to build all future additions to its campus in an environmentally friendly way. Learning Gate required additional classroom space for its growing student body and for this project, they chose to achieve LEED for Schools Platinum status. The students have become ambassadors for the project and have absorbed the principles within their daily routines.
This LEED project encompasses three structures connected by a covered walkway with spaces including four restrooms and ten classrooms. One classroom was set aside for green and public education and will be available for use after hours and on weekends. This classroom highlights the technical and material features of the building.
The recent “Green” and “No Child Left Inside” movements are not new to Learning Gate. Established in 1983 by Patti Girard as a “pre-school where kids get dirty,” we have been teaching students about taking care of the earth and loving it for 25 years. The successful pre-school grew to include a private elementary school and in August 2000, after applying for a charter, we opened our doors as the first environmentally-focused charter school in the state of Florida. Learning Gate is partially funded by the county and currently has 30 employees.
Learning Gate has implemented walking trails, outdoor exercise/play areas, classroom gardens and outdoor swimming to stimulate the students’ appreciation of the outdoors. By utilizing natural daylight in different ways, the school has noticed an increase in student performance and productivity. Also, by creating a healthy atmosphere, teachers are more engaged and focused on learning. Less sick time and more learning takes place. The technology used to monitor the building energy use, VOC output, humidity levels and water consumption/reuse serve as teaching tools.
The school chose the use of prefab structures similar to existing campus buildings. Issues such as indoor air quality, acoustics, and natural lighting were a paramount concern. To optimize energy performance, the owner wanted to minimize artificial lighting, install high-efficient fixtures, and utilize natural day-lighting. In considering the HVAC systems, the school wanted it as efficient as possible and was interested in pushing the envelope in this area. In specifying the equipment, first cost as well as long-term energy consumption was considered. Humidity control was incorporated to ensure occupant comfort. The HVAC systems were designed and tested to be properly sized for the project, reducing the energy consumption needed to cool the facility. Photovoltaic panels supply electricity for the facility. Water savings is a priority; a cistern was installed for rain and grey water harvesting, which can be used for irrigation and waste transportation. Low-flow fixtures were installed throughout for this project.
Because indoor environmental quality is so important to this project, CO2 is monitored to bring in additional fresh air as needed. To enhance the air quality, the use of UV technology was incorporated into the HVAC filter system design. Adhesives, sealants, paints and coatings, and carpet systems with low VOC content were used. All composite wood systems and agrifiber products were urea-formaldehyde free. For thermal comfort, the target dry bulb temperature is 75 degrees F with a relative humidity of 60%; the completed project far exceeds expectations. The use of soy-based spray foam insulation was chosen for its environmentally-friendly composition and superior performance levels.
Learning Gate is in more of a country setting similar to a farm. The campus is not near any homes; it is about two miles from any subdivision. It gives the students a more country atmosphere for their learning environment similar to a summer camp, without the confines and of the traditional school setting. It adds to the Learning Gate philosophy of being sustainable and to use the surroundings in nature and building to educate the students about their environment.
The 27-acre campus consists of one-floor buildings owned by Hillsborough County. It is equipped with recycling and compost bins, rain barrels, and includes an organic garden, wetlands, gopher tortoise burrows, vermiculture colonies, a frog sanctuary and a bay grass nursery.