It's one thing to believe in being green, but quite another to practice what you teach.

So when the staff at Sussex School began drawing up expansion plans, they quickly seized on an idea that is central to the school's progressive mission.

Environmental stewardship.

"This is a wonderful opportunity to teach our kids how to live in the future - how to live sustainably," said Robyn Gaddy, director of the school that is home to 94 Missoula K-8 children.

Passing by the school on Second Street in west Missoula and getting a glimpse of concrete trucks, power tools and the hollow shells of what will be two new school buildings, you might not realize that the school's No. 1 priority is constructing the most environmentally friendly school buildings in the state.

Sussex is intent on attaining LEED certification - a recognition by the U.S. Green Building Council that the new school buildings were built to demanding standards of energy and water efficiency, and with materials that have the lowest environmental impact.

"We're shooting for gold certification," said Will Gaddy, of Ayers-Gaddy Construction, the project's chief contractor.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, and has been the recognized building standard for efficiency in construction for 12 years.

There are only 22 LEED-certified projects in Montana. The new Missoula Federal Credit Union branch on Russell Street received the highest certification - platinum - last year, for example.

If Sussex succeeds, it will become the first school in the state to win the distinction.

Reaching the "gold" standard, a notch below platinum, requires creative thinking, local sourcing and lots of documentation for review by the Green Building Council.

Lots and lots and lots of documentation.

"Every sales receipt, dealer ticket, cost of materials, the distance from the manufacturer ...," said Gaddy, ticking off just some of the documents the council is reviewing.

***

Designed by OZ Architects of Missoula, the two new buildings will add around 8,500 square feet of classroom space, a kitchen, a science lab and other facilities for the school to increase its enrollment - and lower its tuition.

Between the buildings will be a courtyard featuring a pond and a covered walkway.

At a cost of around $1.5 million, the expansion is just Phase 1 of a three-part project on the 2 1/2-acre campus, which will eventually include a gym/auditorium expansion and the restoration of the school's historic Zap building.

Phase 1 should be done in December and likely opened to students in January, but earning LEED certification is no guarantee. Ayers-Gaddy Construction has been working closely with a consultant who is monitoring the project and advising the builders.

From its new solar panels to the soy-based stain on its concrete floors to its seamless, structural-insulated panels to its giant, light-welcoming windows, everything is being geared toward efficiency. Most of the materials themselves were made locally or regionally - windows made by Clawson Windows, panels made from burned trees logged near Seeley Lake.

The goal is not to trumpet the LEED certification and use it as bragging rights, Gaddy said.

Rather, "it's about the spirit of trying to think smartly and do what's right and what's appropriate," he said.

Reporter Jamie Kelly can be reached at 523-5254 or at jkelly@missoulian.com.

 

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