If you were to walk into a high school, you’d surely notice the amount of electricity, electronics, paper, plastic, and food being wasted each day. It’s overwhelming and devastating to see, particularly when you consider how many people around the world lack access to the bare minimum an educational environment should entail, as well as how much havoc our unsustainable practices are wreaking on Mother Earth.
Combatting what has become the norm in the school system, the Center for Environmental Studies (CES) at Bishop O’Dowd high school in Oakland, California, has been designed to support sustainability at every level while also preparing students for careers in renewable energy, resource management, and environmental engineering.
Students are also given a flexible space for learning and becoming inspired to change how we address environmental challenges.
The 5,000-square-foot Zero Net Energy LEED-Platinum-Certified educational building was designed by Siegel & Strain Architects. The facility features two large indoor classrooms and a covered outdoor classroom, providing students with experiential learning and access to cutting-edge research.
The facility offers a natural environment, with impressive views of the San Francisco Bay, a large adjoining terrace, and connection to the Living Lab, an outdoor classroom. Students don’t have to feel stuck inside, or cut off from people, since the spaces are so open and have enough room for large group gatherings and retreats. In fact, according to research, a green view through a classroom window can improve students’ performance.
The Living Lab is a four-acre certified wildlife habitat where students are immersed in the natural world. The lab resides on a hillside, providing additional views of the Bay. It also borders forested public land and connects to the greenbelt of the nearby Arroyo Viejo Creek.
The Living Lab came to life thanks to the very people who spend their time learning and teaching there. The website reads:
Begun as a jubilee year project, the on-campus ecological restoration was led by students, faculty, and parents. Volunteers designed and installed every part of the Living Lab, transforming this once neglected hillside into a vibrant outdoor classroom. The Living Lab holds a leading reputation among school gardens and urban restoration sites and is celebrated for its unique scope and size, impressive volunteer and student involvement, and ecological integrity.
To minimize the facility’s energy use, they installed passive design strategies like a deep overhang and low-emissivity dual glazing, which protects the south-facing clerestory windows from unwanted solar gain. Meanwhile, the large porch that wraps around the building protects its west side.
To keep water use down, a series of large cisterns collect rainwater to be used in toilets and irrigation. Low-flow water fixtures have also been installed to minimize the use of potable water by 60% over USGCB-estimated baseline water usage for a building of similar type and size.
“At O’Dowd we are taking many steps to both conserve water, and protect water quality,” the website reads. “Basic conservation efforts have been taking with more efficient indoor plumbing fixtures and fittings. Additionally, water efficient landscaping is modeled through native and drought tolerant landscaping at the Living Lab, and efforts have been made to mirror this across the campus.”
The architects also took into consideration hazardous materials and e-waste by establishing protocols to keep toxins on campus to a low, and to properly dispose at Alameda County’s Household Hazardous Waste Program. Two e-waste drives are hosted at the school each year in partnership with local organizations that recycle or dispose of e-waste responsibly.