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Green architecture – Salmon Creek Falls Environmental Center

By Damir Beciri
One Comment2 May 2010

salmon-creek-falls-environmental-center-1Environmental Center, part of the Harmony Union School District which will serve grades K-8, became the first public elementary school building in California that reached LEED Platinum certificate. The building design was done by Persinger Architects and Symbios Design – part of the global “green” design and architecture movement. The goal for the building is net zero energy and water use.

The building was conceived to serve several critical needs. The school needed an enclosed cafeteria, and mid sized meeting space. The ecological community needed a central command post, library and gathering place. The local community needed a small performance and theatrical venue.

“I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved. There were many times over the years, that I wondered if we would really be able to reach Platinum”, said the Architect, Alexis Persinger.

The main cafeteria is crescent shaped to make maximum use of its southern orientation for passive solar heating.  The thermal mass is concrete with fly ash throughout and the floors incorporate six individual zones of comfortable clean radiant heat.  Deep overhangs and a light shelf direct this sunlight either in or out of the building depending on the time of year and heating needs. A wall of glass connects the magnificent surroundings of the schools one-acre garden including a straw bale greenhouse, the wetlands and a meadow with towering redwoods in the distance, to the inside.  It is located on a 50-acre campus, which had existing building.

The building uses a passive solar strategy to keep energy use to a minimum. Correct solar orientation of the building provides warming sun in the winter while keeping it out in the hot summer months.  Extra levels of insulation reduce energy use and natural day lighting keeps the energy load from lighting to a minimum.  Recycled steel is used for much of the framing while FSC certified wood is used for the wood structural elements.  Nearly every finish material, water fixture, lighting control systems, solar tubes, and roofing materials are cutting edge.  Each product was researched for years and has been donated by the various venders to demonstrate their products to the public.

The goal for the building is net zero energy and water use.  A 30-kilowatt solar installation not only provides all the energy the building needs, it also significantly reduces the energy use of the other buildings on site.  Storm water is directed into a bio-swale and then into a wet lands on site, allowing the rainwater to soak into the earth.  The water for the building is provided by a well on site.  Essentially the water use and recycling is a closed cycle with no water needing to be added and no water leaving the site.

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    susie Harrington

    Thanks for your article on the building. Just a point of clarification, With Gaia Design of Moab, Ut created the buidling’s design. All the inital drawings, computer modelings and design development were done by us. Alexis Persinger brought his extensive knowledge of working in the public school architecture field and continued with the project through final drawings and throughout the entire (and challenging) construction process. It was a great team.

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