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The Capital - October 14, 2009
By Pamela Wood, Staff Writer

Building expansion, renovation uses students’, teachers’ eco-ideas

At The Key School in Hillsmere, going “green” is so important that Earth Day inspires a school wide, daylong celebration.

So it’s no surprise that the latest campus construction project – modernizing and expanding an old barn full of classrooms – took an eco-turn as well.

With the input of students, teachers, parents and school supporters, the $5.5 million project incorporated environmentally friendly features, both large and small.

The remodeled barn has· six solar panels on the roof, wood floors made from old barn posts, waterless urinals, plenty of windows for natural light, low emissions paint and an energy-efficient heating and cooling system.

And the crews that spent the past 18 months renovating and expanding the building recycled at least 80 percent of the waste material.

“The green features definitely make a difference,” said Key School senior Eric Stillwell of Annapolis, who was involved in planning the details of the project.

The barn, at the far end of The Key School’s Annapolis-area campus, was in need of an upgrade, said Steve Rabbitt, a parent who is the former chairman of the board of trustees’ Building and Grounds Committee.

The barn is one of the original buildings on the campus, which was once a farm. It was converted for classroom use in the 1960s and hadn’t been remodeled since.

The “barn” at The Key School near Annapolis has undergone a $5.5 million renovation and expansion that includes many environmentally friendly details, such as solar panels and flooring made from reclaimed wood. But the barn also includes much of its original charm, such as the granite foundation walls and cupolas. A group of Key School eighth-graders – from left, Brett Rolf, Kate Tanabe, Jaina Patterson, Carter Macleod and Megan Latimer – sits in one of the two new ‘keyholes’ in the middle school library in the school’s remodeled ‘barn’ building.

About a dozen years ago, the barn was identified as in need of help when the school drafted a facilities plan. The project finally got kicked into high gear a couple years ago when the school locked in low-interest financing.

The goal of the renovation was twofold: increase the space from 18,000 square feet to 28,000 square feet and bring everything up to modern building codes.

There were some additional considerations. Almost the entire building sits in the Chesapeake Bay Critical Area and needed extra approvals, and kids and teachers still had to work in the barn during renovations.

Construction took about 18 months but ended six months ahead of schedule. The design was by Annapolis architecture firm Hammond Wilson and construction was by Gardiner & Gardiner, which recently was bought by. BuilderGuru Contracting.

The result is an airy, modern building that has surprising touches of history. For example, many of the barn’s original foundation walls – 2-foot-thick granite – are still visible inside and out.

Huge fir posts that had to be taken out of the barn were milled and turned into hardwood floors.

And the exterior still looks like a barn, with deep red paint and cupolas that let natural light into the top-floor library.

Inside the building, which is used mainly for middle school classes, there is much more space for students and teachers.

“The building is awesome. The sense of flow is fantastic,” said Travis Greenlee, who teaches civics, humanities and outdoor education.

The new library also has a touch of the old library’s charm.

The old barn library had a small niche nicknamed “the keyhole” where students would gather or curl up with a book. Over the years, students shoved little notes in the slats of the keyhole’s benches, which were discovered during construction. The new library has two new keyholes.

Ideal input

Another Key School tradition was upheld in the planning process: Students and teachers who were interested in the project got involved by researching and ·then proposing green ideas to the architect and board of trustees members.

Many of the ideas made the final cut, said Ann Massey, chairwoman of the upper school science department and mentor to the student environmental awareness group.

The waterless urinals, the paint with low-volatile organic compounds and the motion-sensor lights were among their ideas that ended up in the final design.

A “living wall” full of plants didn’t make it, though. And the insulation used differed from that the group proposed.

When it became clear how expensive solar panels would be, Alison Rogers, now an alumna, wrote to BP Solar and secured a donation of six panels for the roof. A Key School family is paying to have the panels hooked up.

Students and teachers now are working on how to incorporate the barn’s new features into their classroom work. For example, science classes might track energy savings while math and computer science classes could crunch data on the waste that was recycled.

Massey said she was impressed with how willing the architects and board members were to work with students and teachers.

“It was one of the most authentic learning experiences I’ve participated in,” she said.

The building will be officially dedicated during a school picnic on Friday evening.

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