Miller Hull

Idaho school master plan takes on Living Building Challenge

Source: Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce

8-27-2020 | News

By John MacKay and Chris Hellstern

For any educational institution, embarking on a master plan journey is a big step. For those taking on the Living Building Challenge (LBC) for a school master plan, it may seem overwhelming, but it need not be. The values and framework of LBC can help institutions and stakeholders to think through critical questions early as the vision and program elements align.

With an even greater focus on social equity, the Living Building Challenge imperatives, or requirements, can help provide a meaningful way to address the master plan’s fundamentals. From equal access to organizational transparency and educational development, there are a variety of ways to help envision our built environment to better represent an inclusive and just community.

The Miller Hull Partnership had the opportunity to work with The Sage School in Hailey, Idaho, where the seamless alignment of the school’s mission to create a curriculum based on human ecology, community and sense of place with the ideals of the Living Building Challenge was clear from the beginning. It was a natural fit. The goal, like every successful master plan, was to provide the school with a roadmap to inform decision making going forward, to align funding, and to inspire the community stakeholders as their shared vision takes shape.

“The master plan is just that — the guiding document. It is the time, the space, the place to get as many key stakeholders together as possible,” said Harry Weekes, head of The Sage School. “And it’s wonderfully generative — that time when you are asking and looking at ‘What the school can be?’ It brings up ideas about vision, and mission, and purpose, and values, and then starts to crystallize those in physical space. You learn to better articulate what you are thinking, to get rid of some of the things you don’t really like, and to really articulate the ideas you hold dear.”

The Sage School is founded on the belief that the way students are educated determines the fate of our world, and in order to change our relationship with the natural environment, students need to be guided toward developing a sense of self that includes deeply understanding the natural, built and social environments in which we live. Key themes emerged through interviews and workshops with parents, teachers, administrators and friends of the school.

Architecturally, the buildings and grounds should not be too precious, but moments or elements should be precious enough to be special. Honor adolescence and keep the love of learning alive. Design the campus to integrate the latest in ecological design — borrow from the characteristic of emergence that develops from a relationship. Community connections are a must — educate the community and build a more humane reality for kids.

As the most stringent sustainability building rating system in the world, the focus of the LBC is to set a framework to encourage regenerative buildings that emulate nature and give back to their environments, a powerful foundation for developing global citizens to both protect nature and build community.

The LBC requires each project to operate within the natural carrying capacity of the site. Understanding how much solar energy strikes the site and how much rain falls on the property informs the carrying capacity, which was estimated at this very early planning stage by determining the extreme minimum and maximum carrying capacities and then identifying a middle ground target. For example, normal school hours and use throughout a calendar year constitutes the minimum capacity.

The school’s goal is to optimize the use of the physical campus resources to function as a community asset beyond the school day and year. Therefore, the total waking hours with extended uses account for the maximum capacity.

Miller Hull’s team — which included PAE, Biohabitats and The Berger Partnership — test-fit a path to realize each of the challenge’s seven petals, or performance areas, for inclusion in the final master plan document. The new Sage School campus will provide a home for students to mature in a positive and supportive environment during their formative years.

The Sage School is currently fundraising and working through COVID-19-related challenges. This pandemic pause should encourage all of us to plan and design our next buildings in the light of nature.

This pandemic gives us an even greater reason to focus on making our buildings healthier for their occupants. It provides stronger opportunities to address socioeconomically disadvantaged populations, which are harmed more by both climate change and disease outbreaks.

It gives us an even greater purpose to holistically and systemically address sustainability in all our work. And, it reinforces the need for all of us to take swift and effective action to solve these challenges together, one master plan at a time.

John MacKay is an associate at Miller Hull and Chris Hellstern is the firm’s Living Building Challenge Services director.

Read the full story at Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce