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.
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.
SOLAR POTENTIAL UPDATES
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 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.
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!
Yurkiw's theory of government jobs:
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.
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...
March 20th 2003 - The Westport News publishes an article by Kirk Lang on our efforts.
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
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.
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!
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.
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.
Architect Abe Rothenberg's letter to Westport newspapers
For Staples architectural plans go to:
website renovation page:
School: Two Westport Middle Schools
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