Thursday, March 15, 2007

School hopes eco-friendly structure sets trend

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Brenda Ahearn⁄The Gazette
Seventh-grader Miles Kelley holds a sign filled with hopes and dreams for the future of some of the younger students Monday in College Park.
Five years after College Park’s Friends Community School laid out an improbable dream for a new school, administrators’ plans have been realized.

Friends School on Calvert Road has called College Park home for almost 20 years, and although its new location is just inside the College Park-Greenbelt border, the new facility is far from the bustling downtown area.

Friends school is home to 165 pupils and one of five Quaker Friends schools in Maryland.

Starting in September, Friends will become one of just a handful of schools in the world to operate in a structure built with straw bales, which will insulate the 27,000-square-foot, $5.7 million building.

Designers and school administrators said straw bale — after being covered with plaster — is equally impervious to fires, insects, high winds and heavy rains as traditional insulation.

The new facility will be the second in Prince George’s County certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED,) an organization that sets standards for green buildings such as rainwater management, greenhouse gas emissions and cutting down on water usage.

A new elementary school to be built in the Vansville section of Beltsville was also certified by LEED. It will open in fall 2008.

The building will also feature a vegetated roof, a rain garden designed to limit soil erosion on the school’s 17 acre campus — which includes woodlands — and filter pollutants from rainwater, and flooring that absorbs sunlight and stays warm during winter months. On cloudy days, floors will be heated by water pipes installed underneath.

Although College Park officials have expressed interest in moving City Hall to the current Friends School site — which is owned by the city — Head of School Tom Goss said the city’s plans had nothing to do with the move.

‘‘It’s been the school’s vision since it’s inception [in 1986] to have a permanent home,” Goss said, adding that the new school will hold 200 pupils.

Twenty-one years after her son entered College Park’s Friends Community School, Sarah Moseley was on hand to see the classrooms of future Friends pupils at a March 12 dedication ceremony.

‘‘The kids will be very connected to the land,” said Moseley, a University Park resident who has stayed involved in the school after her son, Sam Moseley, graduated in the early-1990s. ‘‘[The new building] will be a great lab for them to learn in.”

With more than 30 people gathered at the new school in East College Park — including University Park Mayor John Tabori and College Park Councilman Andrew Fellows (Dist. 3) — seventh- and eighth-graders filled a time capsule to be stored in the school for 25 years.

In 2032, the pupils will be invited back to examine their predictions and contributions stuffed into the capsule, which will be placed in a glass display near the school’s front entrance, said Connie Belfiore, Friends’ director of institutional advancement.

In his message to Friends pupils in 2032, seventh grader Julian Boilen stressed environmental responsibility.

‘‘I hope you’re using something better [than SUVs with low gas mileage] now ... because otherwise you’re in big trouble,” Boilen wrote.

The capsule was also filled with a copy of the school newsletter The Friends Community School Post, a peace poster complete with phrases like ‘‘be a hippie,” a DVD of a day in the life of a modern day Kindergartner and class letters to future pupils with messages ranging from ‘‘Keep being Quakerly” to ‘‘Be kind to the earth, it’s the only one we’ve got” to ‘‘Fear the Turtle.”

E-mail Dennis Carter at