(Blog frozen in time July 2003)

Architects Fuller & D'Angelo

Westport Planning & Zoning Meets Every Thursday at 7:30 PM

Thanks to all who attended to lend their solar support! P&Z approved the application despite all our best efforts to incorporate some type of solar or alternative energy into the plan. Ground was broken July 1st 2003 and construction has begun. $73 million is being spent to build a structure better suited for a turn of the century wire factory than a modern high school! The blog below has been frozen in time as a lasting testament to hours of wasted energy and a total disregard for the long view.

The Westport Minuteman July 3rd edition and the Westport News July 4th edition both ran cover articles about the ground-breaking ceremony (never posted to their websites) with the entire renovation committee standing one proud foot on their glistening brand new silver shovels, with not a care in the world that their dismal choice of architecture will forever reflect a shameful lack of foresight on all of Fairfield County. Once again demonstrating that affluence doesn't necessarily make you smarter!

Cost was their excuse for not incorporating solar and green design into this large and costly new building. Keep in mind the Bedford Middle School came in at $1.5 million dollars under budget. The money was not returned to the state, rather going straight into the Westport Board of Education coffers. If Staples comes back under budget, which is rather unlikely considering the hundreds of redundant architectural renderings that were produced in a vain attempt to please a nebulous aesthetic concern on the part of the architectural review board during interminable and pointless closed session meetings, there will be no good excuse for not investing the surplus funds into a solar electric array.

So many important issues were never discussed, yet this school is being built with good ol'fashion air ducts while most schools in the state now suffer from toxic building syndrome. Hundreds of teachers are gravely ill as reported by the Canary Committee. All this could have been prevented. Yet the Staples renovation committee chose to totally ignore green issues from the proceedings.

Remy C. webmaster


Every year Santa Energy in Bridgeport delivers roughly 20,000 gallons of fuel oil to Staples High School. In the grand scheme of things, that ain't much. At around $1 a gallon, a mere $20.000 a year certainly isn't a prime motivating factor to rethink the way school buildings are ventilated, cooled and heated. It's after all just the measly price of a small car. So who cares? 

The reason to rethink the way we power our buildings has to come from another place, a deeper place of commitment towards the future of our environment, the way we physically interact with our planet. If that's too sappy for you, then Staples, indeed all other schools in this part of the country, Fairfield County being so focused on perpetuating the oil economy for fun and profit, doesn't stand a chance introducing modern state-of-the-art sustainable systems, including fuel cells. It's too complex an enterprise to justify the additional expenditure of time and resources. 

But then ask yourselves this question: why is it happening in so many other parts of the country, while here, in Connecticut, our governor is so nonchalant towards renewable energy issues, he thinks nothing of diverting all solar funds to pay for the deficit. Our priorities in Connecticut are no longer in step with the more progressive and environmentally minded states in the union. Inspired education and architecture will certainly be direct victims as a result. 

In comparison, East River Energy in Guilford delivers 70,000 gallons of diesel fuel a year to Westport for the operation of its town owned vehicles, which includes school buses. Health issues related with diesel fumes are no longer in question, especially in regards to children. Many municipalities around the country have been quietly switching to biodiesel, which burns considerably cleaner. Greenburbs has googled the Net for all the relevant information it could find, including biodiesel availability in the region. It has forwarded its findings to Pete Isabelle at the Westport board of education transportation office in Town Hall. 


Thursday February 13th 2003 Planning & Zoning Meeting 
announcement article in the Westport News

Remy Chevalier speaks with Bill McDonough

April 29th 2003 - A couple of days ago I signed off on the documentary about the Greening of Staples High School I was co-producing with Frank Knize. Call it "creative differences". Any future inquiries about the fate of this documentary need to be addressed directly to Frank. I am no longer involved in any creative capacity.

I've also decided that after banging my head against the wall for three years, Westport is not worth the aggravation. My energies will be better spent taking what I've learned trying and failing to green my old high school to neighborhood communities who have just started their school renovation process and are open to all the good things Greenburbs can bring them.

I will have T-shirts for sale on the day Westport inaugurates its new Staples saying: "Dinosaur High". I'm sure they will be extremely popular with the class of 2005!

As of this moment this page will remain untouched, as a final testament to the good ol'college try. Mr. Kail, I hope you sleep at night... in dreams of Donald Rumsfeld. 

I wish to thank all the people who have contributed to this be-it-as-it-may futile effort. We may have lost this battle, but for our sake, and the planet's sake, I hope we have not lost the war.


April 23rd 2003 - Well, yesterday was Earth Day... Prius introduced it's "Planet Smell" TV commercial, the Cato Institute announced all recycling programs would be dead in three years, and Kira Nystrom of AltieriSeborWieber, who is responsible for the lighting and the electrical for the new Staples, contacted Senator Judith Freedman threatening me with legal action if I didn't stop sending her emails about solar schools!

I quote Kira Nystrom: "You should actually educate yourself Remy. Please refrain from propagandizing with third-party misinformation. I am VERY serious about you taking me off your distribution list. I will take legal action if necessary to stop your spamming. Please stop immediately. Senator Freedman, by copy of this e-mail I officially request your help to stop these uninvited interruptions of my day. Please call me to discuss Remy's harassment as soon as possible." 

Well now... Kari is obviously from the school of intimidation and domination, this coming from an engineer who didn't even know what day-lighting was when I first introduced myself during a Staples P&Z hearing. She not once thanked me for setting up a meeting between her company and Sam Salamay who is proposing a photovoltaic direct to DC lighting system that would pay back for itself in three years. Instead that's the thanks I get. At least she didn't send me a bill for the privilege of making a presentation!

Better news came when Greenburbs discovered the landscape architect hired on the Staples project received his LEED certification back in February.
Thomas Tavella has kept a low profile during all these proceedings, when in fact his influence could be invaluable on the entire project.

Greenburbs also discovered that one of the reasons the Staples Renovation Committee might be so intent splurging on lavish and redundant architectural drawings while penny pinching on the actual design, is because they are secretly planning to return budget monies back to the board of education as they immediately did after the construction of Bedford Junior High. By coming in under budget they returned one and a half million dollars while some say in guise of a playground, the kids must play in a roped off parking lot! I also heard it said that the lights at Bedford were left burning all night long without any concern for energy conservation, under control now. Of course, the current dinosaur lighting at Staples has the parking lots lit until 11:30 pm, every night, 365. 

Greenburbs would like to call for some type of third party investigation of the entire Westport school renovation committee policies and practices. The town of Westport should do this before venturing any further. This has gone way beyond civility and trying to find middle ground. A non-solar, non-LEED certified High School for Westport in 2003 is a National Disgrace! And unless the decision makers make an immediate turn-about to seriously discuss these key issues, and persist in pushing through this less than "good enough" plan, the entire pressure to bear from National members of the US Green Building Council will be felt throughout the entire construction process.

Mark Yurkiw's theory of government jobs:
1) Anything you do can become a problem
2) To get promoted don't do anything that creates a problem
3) So, to get promoted never do Anything

Call it "propagandizing" if you like. Greenburbs is not going anywhere!


April 4th 2003 - Governor Rowland has decided he was going to ransack all the funds allocated for renewable energy programs to pay for the state deficit. So as you can well imagine, this has sent a shockwave through the legislature. On Wednesday March 26th Frank Knize and I drove to Hartford to attend the press conference organized in protest by a quickly forming coalition of representatives. 

We took this opportunity to interview Terry Backer who sits on the Energy & Technology committee. He has a long history as an environmental crusader in Norwalk waters and we felt he would connect with the greening of Fairfield County schools.

On the way back, we stopped at
Action Motors in Danbury which sells GEMs, the neighborhood electric vehicle made by DaimlerChrysler, to set up a demonstration for the Coastal Fairfield County office in SoNo. Frank is now suing the dealership because the building's door got in the way of where he wanted to park. Don't ask...

On March 28th
Sam Salamay and his two associates, working in partnership with Nextek, colleagues of Bill McDonough, who provide complete green power systems for building internals, met with a dozen members of AltieriSeborWeiber (Staples lighting/electrical). If there's a will, there's a way, so if Senator Judith Freedman will stand by her suggestion, there is no apparent reason why AltieriSeborWeiber can't subcontract to green the internals. This would solve a good portion of the problems.

But Westporters have to want it. Otherwise P&Z is just going to approve the plan as is and be done with it. P&Z chair Eleanor Lowenstein said it had no authority over the internals of a structure: heating, cooling, ventilation, type of furnace, quality of lighting and its source, toxicity of materials used, consideration for outgasing and long term air-quality issues, etc... This makes me wonder then who the hell does? What governmental body at Westport Town Hall is appointed to address such issues? The answer sadly is none. 

Why were these topics of national concern today never brought up within the course of the whole three year decision making process? Whose responsibility is it to know these things, ask the right questions, and get satisfying answers? Certainly Greenburbs can't be the only local action group curious in these matters. Why also were none of these questions ever pursued aggressively within the context of the Architectural Review Board meetings? Is how a building looks the only issue of concern to Westporters, to the detriment of how a building actually works?

I picked up the March issue of the Staples newspaper Inklings at the town hall. It contains an article covering the luncheon Principal Brady held to describe renovation plans to students. The gist of it is the only thing of concern to them is parking. Where am I going to park the family SUV? In the same newspaper is an article titled: "Does The Student Body Actually Care About Anything?" Since we were prevented from showing our interview with Bill McDonough at the school, which could have easily been orchestrated by the Staples environmental club, I suspect students are not given the opportunity to "care about anything!" for fear it might bring into question certain aspects of the plan best left unscrutinized by young inquiring minds...

On April 2nd I attended the
o2 Roundtable at the Urban Center in Manhattan moderated by Metropolis magazine and brought the Greening of Staples to the attention of 150 students and faculty from Pratt, Parsons and FIT who are themselves in the process of creating their own greening synergy. As luck would have it, Debera Johnson, industrial design chair at Pratt, heading that green program, is a Staples graduate class of '73. 

P&Z has until April 26th to close the public proceedings. It will then have 65 days to deliberate before returning a verdict either approving or denying the Staples construction. There is no doubt in anybody's mind that the plan will be approved, so my question is how can a community approve a building plan in this Century without any prior detailed and serious discussion of its sustainability? Surely all the information gathered and disseminated by Greenburbs over the last few months directly to the decision makers must have had some influence, although little evidence of this is yet to be felt, heard or seen. 


March 20th 2003 - The Westport News publishes an article by Kirk Lang on our efforts.


Click here for some old Staples nostalgia...

March 20th 2003: Yesterday was a busy day. We visited local architect John Rountree in his Westport home and videotaped him describing the 1.4Kw Astropower PV system installed on his roof. 

We then drove to Staples High School to interview long time Westport resident Julie Belaga, co-founder of the League of Conservation Voters. Julie expressed her concern that the new Staples would not be a green building but that it was too late now to change anything about the plan. She was quite certain P&Z would approve it as is, without any modifications.

Our permit was scheduled for after school hours, as not to interfere with regular school activities, or so stated. We arrived well after the school buses had gone for the day and proceeded to get some establishing shots of the buildings. The parking lot was almost empty but some teachers and students were still exiting the doors. So we asked their permission to speak with them on camera. Principal Dr. Brady came out to advise us that we were not allowed to interview students on school grounds.

Realtor Bruce Bloomfield of Settlers & Traders joined us and re-enacted the comments he made during Congressman Shays's forum on Iraq at Bedford Junior High School which C-Span would have required $1800 a minute for us to use. Bruce feels Bedford Junior High should have also been solar. He then took us out for sushi before walking over to the Westport Public Library.

The screening of our interview with Bill McDonough in the McManus room, which was announced under the police report section of the Westport News, was pretty much a wash out, surely because of the looming attack on Iraq, with sparsely 10 people in attendance. But architect Joe Fuller Jr. and renovation chair Dan Kail were in the audience and quietly sat through Bill's commentary as well as a documentary on High Performance Schools showcasing the work of Innovative Design sent to us by the Sustainable Buildings Industry Council

The only rise our interview with Bill got out of Dan was when I made a crack comment about the first Staples proposal having placed a playing field on the wetlands, which was an over-simplification on my part, born out of frustration. Rather the first plan had playing fields a few feet from the wetlands, where the parking lot is now, an idea quickly nixed because of concerns with run-off from lawn care products. 

Jim Honeycutt, head of the media department at Staples, came with his own video camera to tape the screen. But I asked him to refrain from doing so because ours is a work in progress. We had low volume sound recording problems the day we videotaped Bill, and we need to clean up and boost the sound with an equalizer before we would want to release the footage. But we are happy to show the footage anywhere, anytime, as long as we are present to make sure it does not get duplicated before we had a chance to improve its audio quality. Jim did tape the High Performance School video and we hope, even though we were not allowed to show these videos to the students at Staples, that through Jim, some might be exposed to its information.

Again, I find it quite extraordinary that Staples would go to such great lengths to exclude its students from the renovation decision making process. There's another P&Z meeting tonight, and even though it won't be very comfortable for me to sit in that auditorium after so many weeks - so much energy spent - and little to show for it, I will be there.


March 15th 2003: Click here for a transcript of the P&Z solar question and answer minutes... Don't blink, it goes by quick!!!


March 14th 2003 - This morning I stopped at the P&Z and got audio cassettes of last night's meeting. Three of them. Curious that tapes are $1 each, while photocopies are 50 cents each ?!? Listening to the actual solar exchange is telling, and I can't wait to transcribe it, but as my colleagues know, transcribing isn't my forte, so don't be surprised if it takes me a little while. You can always call me and I'll be glad to play you the tape over the phone receiver.

I ran into Nancy Barrer & Lawrence Gall. Nancy bought the home facing right across the North face of the proposed building. Her primary concern is privacy - not having students peer down into her property, as well as too much light coming from the windows on the third floor shining into her house at night. The architects refuse to remove the glass in the stairwell and on the far north corner. I suggested instead, rather than doing away with glass which serves a daylighting purpose, to simply pick an opaque glass which would allow light to stream through but no one to look out.

I was already on my way to do some serious research about the state-of-the-art in architectural glass technology. The owners of Norwalk Glass were kind enough to give me a copy of the directory edition of Glass Digest magazine, the glass industry trade publication since 1921. There I found this amazing new glass which turns from clear to opaque at the flip of a switch. Check it out! Polytronix. I posted a lot more detailed info on the CTSOS List. 

I also contacted what I've been told is the best greenhouse glass company in the country, Florian. That page alone can certainly guide the Staples horticulture department into making sure the right kind of glass is used for their new greenhouse. I have also sent away for back issues of Architectural Lighting magazine. My aim is to leave no stone unturned so the architects and the renovation committee can't plead ignorance anymore.

PS: The February 2003 issue of Architectural Record magazine is dedicated to the greening of the architectural profession.


March 13th 2003 - I'd been sitting there quietly since 7PM... it was 10 minutes to 11, Frank
Knize was getting antsy. His daughter was fast asleep in the back of the auditorium... it was time to take her home.

Frank dragged me into the hall for a quick interview with
Benjamin Cherner, a member of the Westport architectural review board, in which Benjamin frankly expressed his opposition to the current plan. Frank then packed up his video gear and went home.

And who could blame him? He'd been waiting there for 4 hours ready to film a response from the planning & zoning to our question about solar for the new Staples we had put into the record nearly a month ago.

Whether the P&Z conveniently waited till we were no longer in the audience to quickly answer the "solar" question away from the scrutiny of our camera, whisking it under the rug, or whether it just played out that way, I don't know. I dare not speculate. Although it did seem pretty cheerful at the podium once the "hard" question was finally out of the way, with sighs of relief, big smiles, a real love fest in fact. Why should I sugar coat it? They managed to answer us the second Frank and I stood up and left the auditorium!

I will get copies of the audio record to listen to the actual dialog that took place, and will type up a transcript of the exchange for the CTSOS list. According to a kind gentleman in the audience, who took the time to relate to me what was said, P&Z member Edgar Van Gelder is the one who finally brought up the solar issue at 5 minutes to 11.

Dan Kail, Staples renovation committee chair, answered the dreaded solar question with a simple "no consideration's been given for solar." This after months of futile education. Again, earlier in the evening, I had given Dan another envelop full of solar possibilities, which sadly, Dan will again probably ignore!

Eleanor Lowenstein asked if the materials used would be environmentally friendly, to which Dan replied that they would be, reportedly not volunteering to go into any great additional details.

Edgar Van Gelder again asked if it would be possible to integrate solar into the structure later. I'm not sure what the answer to that question was. Again, I'll get the audio tape record tomorrow and transcribe verbatim what was said. (see March 15 entry above)

I didn't realize last night's meeting was scheduled to run till midnight. In previous weeks it wrapped at 11. Frank & I thought the meeting was just about over. We blew it, what can I say? We'll just have to use the audio portion of the proceedings in the final edit of our documentary, and goof on how we missed the grand finale!

I'm kind of miffed we did not get the P&Z reply to our question on camera, that I actually missed them finally addressing the issue, after waiting for a month, sitting for hours on end through a litany of aesthetic and cosmetic concerns.

If there ever was a perfect example of style over function, this was it. I can safely say that during the P&Z meeting last night, the majority of questions and comments only revolved around how the building would look rather than how the building would work. It's rather distressing.

Architect Jay Keenan gave a very interesting Power Point slide presentation with dozens of colorful slides of the curved brick and glass facade's slow evolution, revealing step drawings not previously seen outside the inner circle of Staples decision makers, describing the process of inclusion which took place between the ARB and the architects, hinting that perhaps too many architects spoiled the brew.

I've said openly that I really didn't have any real objections to the way the new building actually would look, rather I have deep concerns for how the building will "work", which apparently seems to be an issue of little or no importance to the P&Z, the renovation committee or the architects. It in fact seems to be an issue diametrically opposed to their line of questioning since in a total of 5 hours spent discussing the building properties last night, the type of energy which would power the building all but took 5 minutes of their debating time. Big Fat Furnace! End of story.

I'm from a school of architecture where the first step you take is orient your building toward the sun. That is the first and foremost thing you do! The rest naturally and effortlessly unfolds from that first solar step.

Unfortunately, Jay Keenan's presentation came off more like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic rather than revealing any creative solutions to an agonizing and time consuming process. The greenhouse on the South side of the building has a most important role to play in the integral and internal system functions of the entire school. It should be looked at as a
cornerstone of the whole structure rather than a necessary ad on requirement to serve the horticulture department. The greenhouse could and should be extended (expanded) along the entire length of the South side to take full advantage of the limited solar exposure the building footprint allows.

Current ARB Chair George Masumian expressed concern that the way the new school building was designed would "impose a new philosophy on the community." P&Z member Edgar Van Gelder echoed his feelings by saying the building had a "corporate HQ look rather than an educational look," and reminded him of a factory assembly line. "Is it salvageable" Mr. Van Gelder asked, somewhat rhetorically.

Eliott Landen, super intendent of schools, spoke passionately about the building, expressing mechanically that the proposed design addressed all the board of education curriculum and security requirements. P&Z member Michael Stashower asked if the entire design process had been tailored around "security issues", to the detriment of everything else, echoing my own concerns to architect Bill McDonough in the interview we will be showing at the Westport Public Library next Wednesday evening.

P&Z chair Eleanor Lowenstein had a hard time finding where the elevator was on the plans. Eleanor was starting to lose patience with me as I was clumsily prodding along proper procedure and protocol. Thinking the panel was taking a breather, I walked towards P&Z member Arlene Gottlieb, who two week previous had expressed some interest in my comments, to hand her an envelop full of solar information. I was rebuffed by Ms Lowenstein, finding myself apologizing profusely like a three year old boy for my awkward misstep. I did manage to finally hand Arlene my envelop, only for Eleanor to lean over and grab it, saying all information should go to the chair. Whether or not any of the other 6 members of the commission will ever see the material enclosed, which took me weeks and hundreds of phone calls to collect, is anybody's guess.

By the time midnight rolled around I was too numb to make much sense of it all. It's now 3:00 AM, do you know where your brain cells are?


March 12th 2003 - Last week was a busy shooting schedule... On Tuesday we met in the fog in front of the #10 Town House at Fairfield University while some anti-war protest was going on to interview Parker Coates and Evangelos Hadjimichael about the UniSolar PV shingles system they installed on the roof of the dorm. The sun finally came out just as we were wrapping up. 

Then on Thursday the P&Z meeting got cancelled for account of the snow, giving the greening of Staples a stay of execution... On Friday afternoon we interviewed Senator Judith Freedman at the Westport Town Hall next to the Staples 3D model. First selectman Diane Fuller joined our conversation. 

We discussed the possibility of passing a town wide ordinance that would require all architects wishing to build in Westport to be US Green Building Council members, or at the very least abide by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED™) Rating System. LEED  is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings.

In 1996 Santa Monica adopted a set of guidelines to facilitate green buildings without forcing excessive costs on developers, owners, or occupants. Frisco, Texas; Seattle, Washington and many other communities have adopted similar guidelines. Since 2002 Los Angeles requires all new city projects over 7500 square feet to meet the U.S. Green Building Council LEED Certified Standard.

Frank Knize and I have scheduled a showing of the unedited portion of our interview with Bill McDonough at the Westport Library Wednesday March 19th at 6PM. If you want to help us get the word out, print out this Word file flyer. User name and password not required. Just close the window to open.


March 2nd 2005 - On Thursday, Diane Lauricella, director of the Fairfield County Sierra Club chapter, spoke on the behalf of its membership about the urgent need to address issues of sustainability related to the Staples plan. I then went to the mike and asked when we might be given an answer to the question we put to the P&Z on February 27th.

Unbeknownst to me when I first contacted Bill McDonough for his help, I discovered reading the letter he wrote to Westporters on our behalf to architect Abe Rothenberg that Bill graduated class of '69, a year before I did. It sure threw me for a loop, let me tell you. I had no clue. How could such an amazing resource to the town go unnoticed through the entire course of this long and arduous process? 

On Friday Ken Boehm,  Frank Knize and I drove to New York to meet Bill who granted us a videotaped interview prior to his speaking engagement to the National Association of Independent Schools annual conference at the Rockefeller Plaza Hilton. We were joined by Sam Salamay & Stan Klein of Associated Environmental Technologies. Bill spoke directly to Staples students and Westporters. We are making the raw unedited footage of this conversation immediately available for private viewing

Please attend the next P&Z meeting on Thursday March 6th, where again we will ask that a subcommittee be formed to address all green issues concerning the renovation. We are suggesting the creation of an environmental review board which will analyze all aspects of the project for sustainability, a working team consisting of the architects themselves and its engineers, the Staples environmental club, any member of the public who wishes to contribute green ideas and would like to assist Greenburbs in the research process necessary to make sure the best possible materials are used.


February 27th 2003 - I spoke to Joel Gordes yesterday who told me the Raised Bill most appropriate to introducing solar on schools in Connecticut would be this one:

Raised S.B. No. 796 - Session Year 2003 - Public Hearing 02/27

I learned Connecticut in fact never had an official Schools Going Solar program. SolarWorks who has spearheaded the program in New England through a series of benefits with folk musician Dar Williams, one held at the Fairfield University Quick Center, was never able to introduce one in the state. Instead SolarWorks has since received a grant for doing 50, read it and weep Nutmegers, 50 solar schools in New York state, and forgive me if I have my facts wrong, 30 more schools throughout the rest of New England, EXCEPT Connecticut!!! 

I'm told this is because folks in Connecticut think this is the Fuel Cell state, and that's where they'd rather see their money spent!

Unfortunately Joel does not get involved in local issues, and only wishes to work at the state level, so he declined helping Greenburbs with Staples High School. But Joel will keep us informed of progress made on the many bills now introduced in the legislature which could eventually, if passed, assist in finally introducing solar systems in local schools. 

I also learned that there had once been talk of making Staples an emergency shelter, possibly justifying solar electricity, but that idea was struck down after it was learned the structural integrity of the new buildings themselves did not meet a certain strength criteria for such anticipated usage.

Charles Moret, managing director of investments at the
Connecticut Clean Energy Fund told us 19 proposals for PV systems are currently under consideration, but that the money allocated by the state might be taken away and transferred over to take care of the deficit. Joel Gordes urges you to contact your local state representative and ask them to stop this from happening if you want these 19 PV proposals to go through as planned.

In the meantime, the four solar panels on Weston School road are still up there, generating electricity that has been going to waste going on two years now because the Weston town administrator refuses to take them down so they can be donated to the Weston High School Environmental Club as he promised he would do over a year ago!

My friends, the question is this, why has Connecticut become so anti-solar while every other state in the Union is embracing the technology? What is it about Connecticut that has put us so far behind the solar learning curve when it comes to renewable energy and sustainable design?


February 14th 2003 - This is the text we read into the record during the members of the public question and answer period: 

"This speaks to the long term value of the plan. We urge that some renewed attempt be made to study the feasibility of incorporating solar electricity & day lighting into the plan. As two years ago there was sincere talk of a partnership including state agencies, private contractors and suppliers, namely: SolarWorks, Advanced Energy Systems, AstroPower, Atlantic Energy, Rountree Architects, PACE & the AIA's Committee on the Environment. We ask the planning & zoning committee what happened to these initiatives. Why has no panel ever formed, as promised, to study implementation of the national Schools Going Solar program." 

Truth be told, Francis Knize, our videoman, handed me this slip of paper when I walked into the auditorium and said: "there, read this!" So I edited it a little bit and did as requested.

Sitting idle for more than two hours listening to the architects display their plan, I have warmed up to it quite a bit. I especially like the large center courtyard and what they have done with the tall glass all around the science labs on the third floor, letting in an immense amount of light, and providing students with an inspiring view all around. The neighbors, we are assured, will have their utmost privacy preserved by an unprecedented number of large tree plantings. A tremendous effort has also been made to not only preserve, but enhance the existing wetlands on the west side of the property, unlike the very first original plan which just about aimed to fill them in to build a new playing field.

Kari Nystrom is in charge of lighting for the building. She raised a red flag when saying the glass considered would cut down light in both directions by 50%. Surely there is better glass out there! I would like to see time spent on discussing exactly what kind of glass will be used, its thermal and insulating properties, its index of refraction, etc... Widely available today is photo sensitive double thickness glass, so as not to cut down on the quality of the light coming into the rooms during the day, also regulating its intensity, while also not allowing artificial light to radiate out in the evening, out of concern for surrounding residential home owners. The quality of light is especially important in science labs, as it is in art classes. It is absolutely necessary to have full spectrum conditions for the proper use of light in art and science. I would hate for the wrong kind of glass and lighting fixtures to be used. Kari can be reached at 203-866-5538, Altieri Sebor Wieber, 31 Knight Street Norwalk, CT 06851. The firm designed the electrical system for the new Hayden planetarium dome.

I had a chance to briefly discuss the issues I brought up in our prepared statement with architect John Fuller Jr. He shared with me that many more skylights where originally suggested but that the renovation committee was concerned about cost. This is exactly the type of issues we need to address, because it is a lack of information about current technologies which motivates such resistance. We need to educate board members about projected long term savings of modern day lighting components. People just have not done their homework and need to brush up. 

I asked John Fuller if he knew architect William McDonough, a leader in the green architecture movement. Sadly, John had never heard the name. So I will make it my mission in the next few days to connect these two architects together so that John and Kari Nystrom may benefit from the best possible sources of information so they can come back to the renovation board and the planning & zoning with a renewed desire for additional day lighting.

As for solar electricity, well the question is, who is going to pay for it? Our reply is to simply introduce the option into the proceedings and make that wish an integral part of the process. Once the word is out that there is a real commitment on the part of the architects, the renovation committee, the architectural review board and the planning & zoning to see a good percentage of the electrical and heating needs for the building to be provided by solar power, then we can make the necessary contacts and connections initiating a dialog between all concerned parties, ultimately resulting in the realization of such additional objectives. 

Dozens of schools around the country have found ways to introduce large scale passive and active solar systems into new construction. I don't see why Staples could not. It would in fact reflect quite badly on Staples if it did not.

We can certainly pick up the pieces where they were left off and get to work. We have been promised a response to our question at the next meeting of the P&Z on Thursday February 27th at 7:00PM, again inside the Westport Town Hall auditorium. Please make an effort to attend. Bring family and friends. Show all the folks who have brought the Staples plan so close to realization that if they would only take it that one, tiny little extra step, we won't have to say in 2005 that it fell short of expectations. 

I dare say Fuller & D'Angelo have done an incredible job bringing it this far. But it stops just short of "right on!" If the town, students, all those really concerned by the state of our environment, our looming increasing energy costs, and a need to take a new direction come to realize something like the rebuilding of one of the greatest high schools in the country doesn't feature into this, then my friends, what does?


February 11th 2003 - Staples students tried to start their own school renovation pages on the Staples website back in 2001. But it quickly became a grave site after the renovation committee failed to share information with them. All these items below were attempts, all in vain, to organize some kind of roundtable discussion between the Staples renovation committee members and local American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment (COTE) chapter members. Neither side made the necessary effort to formally organize such a meeting. 

Thus here we are now, in 2003, about to erect a new school which looks pretty much like a maximum security prison, (Feb 14/post-script: I take the prison comment back... RC) devoid of any active solar technologies, or very many sustainable design and green architectural ideas! This while the National Museum in Washington DC is currently hosting a Big & Green conference advocating all new construction in America should be green. 

The architectural rendering that was pictured on the cover of the Westport News (above) actually doesn't really do the building justice. It's not as bad as it looks. A 3D model of the design is on display (below) in room 203 (the planning & zoning office) of the Westport Town Hall. There are in fact a couple skylights that have crept in, and quite a few high glass verandas facing south. But there is no built-in day lighting system, and of course no integrated photovoltaic arrays, and no provision for them, even though a discussion about solar electricity was begun in 2000 but never seen through to its successful conclusion.

What went wrong? Why were opportunities to build a fully sustainable and solar structure squandered? Who are these people on the Westport Schools Renovation Committee who allowed three new schools be built without any consideration for green design and are now willing to undo the ebb and flow of one of the nicest high school campuses in the country? 

It's now up to the students to ask the hard questions. Without them, the Staples construction will go forward as approved above, and the whole community will have to live for years with the knowledge that it could have averted a mediocre project, which fell short of green expectations. It's not too late to prevent such a mistake. Its not too late to look at the overall design and incorporate a green design ethic into the plan Fuller & D'Angelo architects have offered.

I tried for 3 years to make the new Staples a green school. But I should not be held responsible for coming short. The Staples renovation committee members and its architects now need to face the students and explain where the $88 million dollar budget is going and why they are being denied a solar future!

It's not about how much more a green design would cost. It would not cost more, because we are paying for it everyday. It's about philosophy and the message we are sending future graduates.
—Remy C. webmaster

Big & Green Exhibition Lecture Series

Architect Abe Rothenberg's letter to Westport newspapers

For Staples architectural plans go to:
(Nothing was ever posted on this website yet. It was supposed to gave been the responsibility of Howard Maynard - - on the Staples renovation committee to create this website for the renovation. But he never delivered on that promise. Click here for a link to Plan 3cc which will give you an idea of the footprint the new building will occupy. It was one of many tentative plans among dozens. But it will at least give you a layout of the land. It was also the only one I could wrestle from the committee.)

Staples HS website renovation page:

This from November 2000:
(Yet the project never materialized...)

School: Two Westport Middle Schools 
Applied Technologies: Solar Electric (PV), 

When the Westport [Connecticut, U.S.A.] school board agreed to include a photovoltaic system on the town’s new middle school, still on the drawing boards, some people asked, why no solar system for the old middle school? So now, once funding has been accomplished, both of Westport’s middle schools will be equipped with two-panel, 500-watt photovoltaic systems. Northeast Utilities has agreed to fund one of the systems; advocates are currently approaching corporate and foundation donors to fund the other. 

Architects were able to draw up plans for the new school to showcase the solar electrical system. The panels will be mounted on a vertical wall in a public courtyard, prominently displaying the school’s decision to go solar. 

By the middle of 2000, ten more PV systems should be up and running on Connecticut schools, thanks to the Solar for Connecticut Schools program, a statewide initiative to install photovoltaic systems on public schools throughout Connecticut. Each system is estimated to cost US$18,000, of which a school must pay only US$2,000, thanks to partnership and support from state agencies and private contractors and suppliers, including Solar Works, the United Illuminating Company, Advanced Energy Systems, AstroPower, Atlantic Energy, and the architecture firm of John Rountree. PACE, the People Actions for Clean Energy, Connecticut’s largest all-volunteer organization working for renewable energy, also supports the project. 

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