In 2007 O’Brien & Company facilitated a strategic visioning process for the staff, students and stakeholders of an independent school with a strong commitment to “Go Green.” Today, HPA’s leadership points to that process as the foundation for successful completion of its new Energy Lab, a living, learning laboratory. A Little Background:
Hawaiʻi Preparatory Academy (HPA), founded in 1949, is an independent coeducational school providing a full range of opportunities for students from kindergarten through grade 12. The school is located in Waimea on the island of Hawaiʻi (the Big Island). Their main, 200-acre campus is located at the foot of the Kohala mountains, with views across the rolling paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) country to Mauna Kea to the south.
Visioning Process Plants the Seed
A desire for a more integrated, comprehensive approach to sustainability was the natural outcome of the work of a small group of campus enthusiasts who began meeting a year or so earlier and who had already achieved some success with the installation of solar street lights and solar water heating on campus.
The visioning work, facilitated by Kathleen O’Brien and Elizabeth Powers of O’Brien & Company in 2007, marked the beginning of a campus-wide integrated process, aligning the passion, energy and intention of the students, faculty, staff and parents towards a vision of a sustainable school in a sustainable community with clear goals and metrics for measuring success along the path of progress. Topics covered all aspect of campus operations: food, transportation, buildings, and natural resources (such as energy and water), and discussions went beyond operations to integrating learnings into curriculum and into community relations.
We met in the old Parker Ranch House and the walls for each room were literally covered by the end of the day with ideas that eventually were organized and compiled in a report for the committee to work with. A blown-up campus map provided a canvas for participants to answer the question: What would it look like for HPA to “Go Green?”
HPA wanted to be a major leader in the region’s sustainability efforts – a goal made all the more meaningful by the fact that their region is a collection of islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, which once supported a population of more than one million people without any input from the outside world, but is now dependent on a continuous IV drip of oil tankers to meet its energy needs. Says Bill Wiecking, a participant in the early visioning process and now Energy Lab Director, “The Big Island can serve as a model for the planet: this is all we have, we must learn to use our resources wisely, while thinking about forever.”
One of the strategies that emerged from the visioning work was creation of an Environmental Energy Lab that would focus on locally-appropriate strategies towards achieving energy independence. The learning laboratory would offer a fully integrated curriculum, real-time reporting of performance and a forum for learning about project management – not a one-off but a model that could be replicated across the state of Hawaii and beyond.
The Seed Bears Fruit
As a testament to the strength of that vision, Bill Wiecking’s passion, and the commitment of HPA’s stakeholders, the new Energy Lab, designed by architect David Croteau of Flansburgh Associates recently earned certification under the Living Building Challenge – the most rigorous rating for sustainable building.
The building is finely tuned to respond to its environment. Form and orientation evolved to balance complex flow dynamics that drive the natural ventilation system, designed by Buro Happold with access to daylight and views that are critical to creating an optimal learning environment – it is, first, a classroom, after all. Not a singular effort, this building forms the blueprint for future structures on the campus – an integrated, optimized response to a complex system.
At the award ceremony in May, 2011, David Croteau spoke of the challenges of designing and constructing a Living Building in Hawaii. Between the Red List of unacceptable materials and the limitations of transportation distances for different resources, just writing the specifications for the project was a major effort. But seemingly insurmountable barriers were overcome because everyone’s values were fully aligned around the larger goals. The value that the building represented as a model was so great it justified extraordinary steps to ensure the coherence of the story it had to tell.
Without the clarity that came from the Go Green visioning, that unity of purpose might not have existed. Bill Wiecking said of the process, “Our school had a nascent "Go Green" movement for years before our first charrette challenged us to reach for something beyond our grasp. This workshop had many outcomes besides the kernel of our energy lab project: recycling, energy auditing, farming, materials awareness. As a school we are uniquely vulnerable to supply disruptions, with energy and food costs among the highest in the country. We are well motivated, and now we have a place to study sustainability using tools and techniques years ahead of any other school, presenting educational opportunities beyond the scope of anything we might have envisioned several years ago (prior to 2007).”
Posted by Alistair Jackson & Elizabeth Powers, principals and owners of O’Brien & Company, Inc, a green building consultancy founded 20 years ago in the Seattle area and publisher of the Building Capacity Blog. See also Elizabeth’s article on Living Buildings in the Northwest in the O'Brien & Company June 2011 newsletter.
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