Key School expansion uses students' ideas

Renovations, addition to 80-year-old building incorporate 'green' features

August 03, 2008|By Susan Gvozdas | Susan Gvozdas,Special to The Sun

Officials at an Annapolis private school known for its students' independence and creativity didn't look far for ideas to make the $5 million renovation of its middle school building eco-friendly.

Key School students suggested several ideas that made it to the final design stage: waterless urinals, less toxic paints and solar panels. Others, including a geothermal heating system and a "living wall," did not.

The youth committees presented their recommendations last year to the building committee and Annapolis architect Leo Wilson, who discussed the pros and cons of each. The geothermal system, which would have used heat from the ground to warm water, was deemed too costly. The living wall, with plants that filter stormwater runoff and absorb heat, was considered unfeasible.

"The adults listened to us and worked with us side by side," said Alison Rogers, who graduated in June from the small school for students from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. "As a youth, I don't often get that respect" outside of school.

The project for the building known as the Barn began in June and should be completed by 2010 . The Barn's 15-year-old addition was demolished and will be replaced by a much larger addition that will add 10,000 square feet to the 18,000-square-foot structure. Once that part is done, students will use the addition while the old Barn is renovated.

The Barn has several upper-school classrooms, said Ken Piel, the school's director of finance. The renovation of the Barn will create a commons area on the main level. The Ford K. Brown Library will be moved to the upper level. The Barn's original cupolas, which provided ventilation, will be replaced with skylights to provide more natural light, he said. The new Barn will have 20 classrooms, science and computer labs, and a music room for upper-school students.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the school, which began in a rented house on Chesapeake Avenue and is now in Eastport on its 15-acre campus in Hillsmere Shores, a residential community overlooking the South River and the Chesapeake Bay.

The Barn dates back about 80 years, Piel said. For the renovation, the school selected Wilson, who is certfied by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a certification program for green buildings.

In the spring of 2007, the school sent an e-mail to students asking for volunteers to work on a collaborative building committee. In addition, students from the environmental activity club volunteered for the project, said Ann Massey, club mentor and head of the upper school's science department.

For ideas, students took a field trip in October to the LEED-certified middle school built for Sidwell Friends in Washington. The students came up with several topics, such as water and energy conservation, then did research on each topic, Massey said.

Conor Leahy, another senior who just graduated, took on water conservation and looked up information on waterless urinals that he had seen in public restrooms. The urinals are expected to save the school thousands of liters of water, he said. His group also was interested in the living wall but couldn't find a non-load-bearing wall to use.

Rogers, who lives in Galesville, worked on finding ways to get solar panels. She wrote a grant to BP Solar, a solar manufacturer in Frederick. The company gave the school six panels through its module donation program to help power parts of the Barn. In December, the student teams presented their findings to the architects and the board of trustees.

"They definitely took our ideas seriously," said Leahy, who lives in Annapolis. "There was no idea that was just thrown out without a lot of thought."

The Barn also will have motion sensors to automatically turn on lights when needed. Separate light switches will control lights near windows, allowing teachers to turn them off when there is enough natural light, Piel said.

Student involvement in the Barn project was in line with Key School's focus on following the students' lead and promoting environmentalism, Rogers said. That was reflected in this year's senior class gift to the maintenance crew, golf carts with solar roofs.

Rogers plans to study political or environmental science this fall at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She said she is envious of the students who will benefit from the new building and glad she had a hand in designing it.

"It gives us a sense of ownership that this school is really ours, and we can make a difference," she said.

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