As the 2009-10 academic year begins, George School students, faculty, and staff are inhabiting the new, green Learning Commons and Mollie Dodd Anderson Library for the first time, following fifteen months of construction and seven years of planning. Encompassing a library, five classrooms, and a learning center, the more than 26,400-square-foot structure stands on the south end of campus at the intersection of Farm Drive and Meetinghouse Lane. With a number of green features, including a vegetative roof and geothermal heating and cooling, the building is designed to earn gold-level certification under the LEED system—the national standard for environmentally friendly building design, construction, and operation. The new academic facility is composed of a glass, box-like formation connected to two brick structures that match the nearby George School Meetinghouse.
“It’s been really exciting to see the students enter the building,” said Library Director Linda Heinemann. “They stop and look around. They’re just amazed at the beauty.” Linda described the architecture as “simple, elegant, and consistent with Quaker simplicity.” Overall, the structure’s ample windows create a visual connection to the outdoors in more than 90 percent of the spaces—a feature that maximizes the use of natural light and provides striking views of the campus. According to the U.S. Green Building Council, research shows that daylit school environments enhance students’ health and academic achievement, and promote positive moods. “Many of the students comment on the connection to the outside,” noted Linda.
On the first floor, two walls made entirely of windows offer dramatic views of an outdoor terrace, six lush rain gardens that surround the building, the portion of campus known as South Lawn, and George School’s signature landmark, Main building. A square skylight provides a sunlit study space near the reference and circulating collections. A floating staircase extends above the first floor, affording new perspectives of South Lawn as one approaches the second floor. On the upper level, a balcony designated as a quiet study area surrounds the skylight.
Within the facility—which contains space for three times the number of visitors that fit in the previous library—students can take advantage of four group study rooms, twenty-six computer workstations, twenty-three study carrels, and a number of other seating areas in order to work on group projects, meet with their advisors, or engage in quiet study. Linda said, “The new library has lots of different areas to accommodate the different kinds of activities that happen in a modern library now. Very different activities can peacefully coexist.”
Junior Andrea Lindsay of Yardley, Pennsylvania, agrees. “I think it will be a lot easier to work on group projects now,” she said. Andrea believes that the Learning Commons and Anderson Library will be “a social space but also a productive one.”
The first floor includes the information center, where library staff are visible and accessible to students; various workstations; group study rooms; library staff offices; a conference room; an informal gathering room; an art gallery; the school archives; and special book collections. In addition to the quiet study area, the second floor holds a circulating collection area; group study rooms; a library staff office; five classrooms and two offices that house George School’s Religion Department and International Baccalaureate Program; and the school’s learning center, where students who need help with tasks such as time management and writing can consult a learning specialist. Wireless Internet access is available throughout the building, which was designed by Bowie Gridley Architects of Washington DC. Building and construction were managed by W.S. Cumby of Springfield, Pennsylvania.
“It’s amazing,” Andrea said of the facility. “I want to share my enthusiasm with everybody.” As one of three students who led tours of the learning commons and library during the school’s opening weekend, Andrea had the opportunity to explain the various elements that contribute to the building’s sustainability and are designed to earn points under the LEED rating system.
The LEED system assesses buildings in a number of categories, awarding points for the use of sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy efficiency, impact on the earth’s atmosphere, the use of sustainable materials and resources, limitation of waste, indoor environmental quality, and the extent to which buildings address regional environmental priorities.
Highlights of the new facility’s green features include the following:
• Over 50 percent of the new materials contain recycled content. • More than 60 percent of the new materials were obtained from regional resources, a strategy that minimizes the carbon dioxide emissions involved in transporting the materials to campus. • The Forest Stewardship Council, which encourages environmentally responsible forest management practices, certified 90 percent of the wood used for the building. • During construction, 88 percent of the waste generated by the process was recycled. • A 400-foot-deep geothermal field with forty wells heats and cools the structure, generating over 4 billion BTUs daily. • The vegetative roof and six rain gardens provide an environmentally friendly stormwater management system. • The vegetative roof helps to insulate the building. • All landscaping was done with native plants that can tolerate the local climate without the need for extra water. • Windows are coated with Low-E, a substance that helps to insulate the building. • To minimize odors and contaminants in the building, only low-emitting paints, carpets, and glues were used. • The carpet is comprised of squares so that individual pieces can be replaced as needed; this eliminates the need to replace the entire carpet when an area is damaged. • A state-of-the-art window covering system monitors sunlight penetration and automatically adjusts the shades to optimize interior room lighting. • Carbon dioxide sensors monitor the air and bring in fresh air as needed. • The bathrooms have waterless urinals and low-flush toilets. • A flat screen near the main entrance shows the building’s energy use in real time.