Sidwell It Is

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Wednesday, November 26, 2008
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The Sidwell Friends School, the country's first LEED Platinum grade school. (All images courtesy KTA.)

As if we haven’t written enough about Barack Obama or schools of late (what can we say, we’re in the tank with the rest of the press), we still can’t help but weigh in on the Obamas’ decision to send their daughters to the Sidwell Friends School. Sure, there’s been tons said already about the school’s Quaker values and its symbolic standing in D.C., even the hypocrisy of the choice.

But what really matters–and hopefully speaks volumes for the coming administration–is the school itself. No, not the teachers. We’re talking about the building, and the middle school in particular, which happens to be the first LEED Platinum grade school in the country.

A wetland, fed by graywater, is located in the school's courtyard.

Here’s what I wrote about the school in a Studio Visit last year with the firm behind the project, KieranTimberlake Associates (KTA):

The Sidwell Friends School has always fostered environmental stewardship, as befits the Quaker values on which the institution was founded. When it came time to renovate the dilapidated red brick middle school, administrators realized they had an opportunity to turn the entire school into a green classroom.

“Everywhere the building functions environmentally, they wanted it to be an opportunity for learning,” KTA senior associate Richard Maimon said.

Among the features KTA included are a green roof that functions as a garden and lab; a graywater system that not only feeds a lush wetland but includes a diagram–which hangs near the wetland for all to see–explaining the system; and wooden louvres reclaimed from old wine barrels, which, like most of the material, are locally sourced.

“It may be the only LEED Platinum school in the country, but the real point is to teach,” Maimon said.

Kids at play? Nope, studying their expansive green roof.

Kids at play? Nope. They're studying the expansive green roof.

Steve Kieran happened to be visiting the school on Monday, just days after the announcement was made, and said that everyone was thrilled by the news, including himself. “Sure, I’m proud,” he said in a phone interview from the firm’s offices in Philadelphia. “In this regard, it’s probably the totality of the whole picture that’s involved [that drove the Obamas' decision]. Certainly part of that picture is the whole greening of the campus and having the first LEED Platinum school.”

“It’s a wonderful thing for us and the school, it’s a wonderful thing for green design,” he added. “Given Obama’s stated agenda, it would be stunning if it weren’t part of the decision to attend.”

While only Malia, 11, will start off at the school straight away as she enters fifth grade, her younger sister, Sasha, 7, has four years at the lower school to contend with first. We bet it’s worth the wait.

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