SFWHS First LEED Gold Certified School in SF

As the first school in San Francisco to be awarded the coveted LEED Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, San Francisco Waldorf High School begins the 2011-12 academic year with a tremendous accomplishment to celebrate. 

The overall goal of the project was to create an environment that is in harmony with the philosophy of Waldorf Education. Perhaps the greatest reflection of this success is the fact that the building itself will be incorporated into the curriculum as an educational resource for environmental studies. The principals of the Waldorf philosophy and the actual building serve as a teaching tool for students, demonstrating how to become actively involved in today’s social issues.

In order to achieve the LEED Gold designation, the design team, led by David Bushnell of 450 Architects (parent of Lola, Gr.10 and Lea, Class of 2011) sought improvements that not only make the school environmentally friendly, but also have a positive impact on the daily lives of the students, faculty, and staff. The architects designed SFWHS to connect the students to their environment by visually integrating the building with the surrounding eucalyptus grove. In addition to reducing water usage, increasing energy efficiency, and using a high percentage of recycled and repurposed materials, the architects of the project created better air and light quality that are conducive to learning. To that end, they installed a state-of-the-art HVAC system that monitors and controls the level of carbon dioxide in the classrooms, as CO2 levels are known to directly affect brain function. They also replaced the existing fixed windows with operable wood windows to provide fresh air and give the learning spaces a connection to nature. One teacher remarked that the quality of the light and air was so refreshing that she felt like she was outside. 

Achieving this goal was made possible by a strong commitment by the Board of Trustees and the College of Teachers to using the higher standards of Gold Certification as the benchmark against which the project would be measured. Budget constraints and other priorities are often cited as reasons for projects settling for Silver LEED Certification, a much less stringent standard. It took a great deal of will on the part of SFWS to hold itself to the higher standard, especially given the added difficulty of the project being a retrofit of an existing building rather than a new construction. The initial construction timeline was very quick and the faculty and students occupied the building in the Fall of 2007 before all the work was complete. It took until the following summer to finish the important step of installing the cork flooring (a rapidly renewable resource) with low VOC adhesives. 

When seeking LEED certification designers and project managers review a list of possible design and construction credits that cover issues such as site, water and energy management, sustainable construction materials, and environmental impact. Upon completion of the project final submission of demonstrations, illustrations and other forms of verification are required. This process can be very time consuming, but it provides a valuable opportunity to evaluate what has been achieved and to examine future improvements in facilities and educational programs. SFWS is committed to advancing a school wide “green agenda” into the future. As an educational institution perhaps the most significant question is how we continue to integrate sustainable practices and values into our educational program. 

We are delighted to have architect David Bushnell visiting the 12th grade architecture class on Fridays to discuss sustainable architecture. We look forward to the perspectives of Ben Pittenger, a new high school science teacher, who brings a strong background in environmental sciences to the earth sciences curriculum. At the grade school, our older buildings have been refitted with energy efficient lighting and water saving fixtures. Our K-3 gardening program provides a solid foundation for students’ burgeoning environmental science education. Ongoing work lies in continued improvement in areas such as community-wide use of San Francisco’s three bin waste system, waste reduction, and understanding and use of sustainable products. Finally, we need to continue exploring how the implicit “greenness” of Waldorf education can be made more explicit where appropriate. 

Also leading some of this work are two organizations: the Green Gnomes, a group of grade school parents dedicated to understanding and implementing sustainable practices at the Washington Street campus, and the high school’s Environmental Club, comprised mostly of students. Both groups sponsor news ideas and initiatives to raise community awareness around sustainability issues. 

Congratulations to the architects, Board of Trustees, faculty and staff who persevered to bring this project to fruition. We invite everyone to join us in continuing our efforts to put sustainability at the forefront of our community’s values.