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The Willow School: Teaching Sustainability
by Doug Pushard

The first thing that you notice at The Willow School is the closeness of nature to each classroom. Each room has its own door so children can move outside at a moment's notice, and the ample windows draw the outside into the room. Preserving the natural beauty of the area, the grounds design features include many outdoor learning spaces and constructed wetlands for the filtration of wastewater.

Natural meadows, butterfly gardens, rainwater harvesting and hedgerows are incorporated into the design of the campus. The school's goal is to teach in a building that not only houses the students but serves as a model to study responsible living. The school curriculum actively incorporates sustainable-living principles at each grade level.

Key System Components

> 13,500 square foot (1,254
square.meters) roof area
> 80-90% Recycled Stainless
Steel roof and gutter system
> 1 - 50,000 gallon (189,500
liter) Rainstore tank
> 1 - 600 gallon ( 2,274 liter)
tank
> 1 - 35 gallon (132 liter)
pressure tank
> 10 - 1.6 gallon (6 liter)
toilets
> 1- 1 3/4 HP pump
> 1 - 100 micron filter
> 1 - Ozone Systems Skid-mounted Ozone sterilization system

The school building includes the latest in environmentally-sensitive and energy-efficient design. Clerestories provide passive-solar heating, supplemented by high-efficiency gas heating. Rainwater runoff is recycled to flush the building's toilets and maintain the surrounding plantings, and the remaining wastes are processed in the most environmental sensitive method.

Phase I of the school's master site plan - involving the construction of a 13,500 square foot (1,254 square meters) classroom building and site infrastructure including roadways, parking lots, and landscaping and was completed in September 2003.

The rainwater harvesting system was put in place in this phase. According to Mark Biedron, Co-Founder/Trustee at the The Willow School, "Installing a catchment system was a great way to address both our storm water management and re-use water at the same time...it seemed to make all the sense in the world."

The Lower School Academic Building runoff is captured in an approximately 50,000 gallon (189,500 liter) below ground tank made out of recycled plastic. The tank was installed below the frost line (i.e. about 2 feet, .6 meters) using the earth's insulating capabilities to prevent the water from freezing during the winter school term. With over 40 inches (101 centimeters) of rain in a typical year, the school is capable of capturing nearly 400,000 gallons (1.5 million liters) a year.

Rainwater is used both for irrigation as well as in the low-flow toilets. Sixty-thousand native grasses and perennial plants that require limited or no irrigation were planted. The plants were installed partly to cut down on water use, but also to reduce the need to mow and fertilize the large site as well as open up the soil for better water absorption.

Rainwater is stored in the large underground tank and then cleaned before being stored in a 600 gallon (2,274 liter) holding tank in the basement. Sediment traps eliminate the large debris entering the system, which is further filtered with another smaller filter before entering the large tank. Water entering the smaller holding tank is treated with an ozone sterilization system. The water in the holding tank is clean and always available for use by the irrigation system and the toilets, eliminating the need for portable city water for these uses. An added benefit of the ozone system is the lack of colorization in the water, so water in the toilets looks just like clean potable water.

Flushed water and any rainwater overflow go to the on-site constructed wetlands that process waste. These wetlands are simply a rubber-lined rock-filled pond, where plants are grown hydroponically in septic water and the micro-organisms and plants feed off the pollutants. The cleaned water is then pumped into the ground to help recharge the local aquifer.

The Willow School will be adding to another 50,000 gallon (189,500 liter) cistern to their existing system installed on the new art building. This should be complete in December, 2006.

The school's water system is continually monitored and displayed so students can monitor how much water is reused. This beautiful, progressive facility is truly an active learning center, with kids surrounded by wonderful, interactive facility and yet it is not using any drinking water for either irrigation or flushing toilets.

"We are a school that sees sustainability as a key element in our relationship with the natural world as much as with our social world. Children learn to share intellectual resources with peers to sustain a community. They also learn to share, respect, and conserve nature’s resources. As we marvel at the gifts nature provides, we also learn that nature, like our social relations, must not be wasted by profligacy or indifference," states Richard Eldridge, Head of the Willow School, explaining the school's vision.

The Willow School is located on a 34-acre site in the New Jersey countryside, near the Gladstone town center, at the corner of Highway 206 and Pottersville Road.

For more information on the school visit their website.

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