With the launch of Hilton Bialek Habitat’s Green Building, kids can get a …

April 5, 2012 by  
Filed under Solar Energy Tips

Hilton Bialek Habitat founder Craig Hohenberger’s favorite sustainable design element in MEarth’s new Green Building is the living roof.

With its more than 477 California native plants, from Achillea millefolium to Zauschneria canum, the roof protects and houses students and teachers below and some 185 bird species above.

“The living green roof mitigates habitat loss, it provides habitat for nesting birds, native plants, it cools the building, it’s aesthetically pleasing,” he says.

When he began talks with the district about using the 10-acre Carmel Middle School property for the Habitat in 1995, the Carmel High environmental science teacher never dreamed a living roof would crown the project 17 years later.

“The original vision was to have this 10 acres to recreate plants in the area,” he says. “It’s already gone way further than I could ever hope.”

In 2005, two years after Hohenberger hired UC Berkeley grad Tanja Roos as the organic garden manager and program coordinator, the school district finalized discussions of a capital improvement bond. Roos came in with a new idea for a sustainability project, asking: “Would you mind if we threw our hat in the ring and potentially fund a green science classroom?”

Voters approved the bond, providing $492,000 seed funding for the green building project.

Five years and two sets of building plans later, the project broke ground. They had keys to the new building in hand a year later.

On March 31, staff for MEarth (the Habitat’s nonprofit), Carmel Unified School District officials, students and community members celebrated the $1.2 million green building’s grand opening. It aims to educate upwards of 2,500 children a year as a “best practices” model of sustainable building, with Energy Star-rated appliances, solar panels and 4,500-gallon rainwater catchment tanks. 

Other green features include a center island and countertops made from Zetrazzo, a granite-looking eco-material made from 83 percent post-consumer recycled glass; bamboo cabinets; low – or no-VOC paints; and concrete slab floors stained with nontoxic iron sulfate.

A building dashboard displayed on a computer screen inside the building and online for home viewers, tracks energy usage, solar energy production, reclaimed rainwater volume and green tips.

“I’m enamored by the dashboard,” says MEarth Executive Director Andrea Lewis. “It’s a huge teaching tool, and helps us better understand the benefits of this building.”

Roos, who teaches cooking classes in the green building, favors the kitchen elements. “With the feed-to-table culinary program here, the arrival of this building really encapsulates all of it. It’s incredible: the beautiful, bountiful organic garden; the orchard; everything is just steps away,” she says. “We can walk right outside to the garden with the kids. We are literally living the dream.”

Nine years ago, Roos helped install a wood-fired pizza oven on a tip from Alice Waters. Speaking at the property’s dedication, “[Waters] said, ‘You have a children’s garden. You want to do cooking classes. Put in a pizza oven,’” Roos remembers.

The new oven meant dishes to clean. Roos bought a dishwasher for $50 on Craigslist and plugged it into a spare room across the property: “We had to cart everything in wheelbarrows back and forth.”

These days, she doesn’t have to cart dishes or fire up the outdoor oven in advance anymore; the green building is equipped with two ovens and two dishwashers. The building recently hosted a dinner for MEarth volunteers and a sold-out pop-up dinner with Casanova Chef John Cox.

“This whole property is about getting people to think differently,” Roos says. “The sustainability field can be such a downer. We can say how many people are dying or animals are losing their habitat. But this place is about hope, and empowering kids. We can make a difference.”

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