The “greenest building in New Jersey” is actually a mixture of brown, white, blue and gray.

Those are among the colors imbedded in the stonework, recycled from old barns, which makes up the exterior of the Willow School, a private institution for pupils in kindergarten through eighth grade.

The “greenest building” moniker has been used by several experts to describe the Gladstone, N.J., school, one of the first in the country to earn gold-level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

The program rates structures that use resource-saving or “sustainable” practices in design and operations. Willow earned “gold,” the program’s second-highest award, for its use of recycled, energy efficient and renewable materials. The school’s windows include frames crafted from pickle barrels, stone benches that were originally part of a bridge and stone pavers that came from Boston’s infamous, problem-plagued “Big Dig” highway project. Its hallways have cork and natural linoleum flooring, and classroom chairs and tables were made from trees at the 34-acre campus.

The school placed No. 2 on the 2006 list of “The Top 10 Green Schools in the U.S.,” published by the National Geographic Society’s Green Guide.

The Willow School, a private educational institution in Gladstone, N.J., has been called “the greenest building in New Jersey” for its dedication to environmentally healthy practices. It was awarded gold-level certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program. A standing-seam metal roof from Follansbee Steel was responsible for some of the LEED points that resulted in the gold certification. Image courtesy of the Willow School and Follansbee Steel.

‘Ideal'

The structure is topped with a standing-seam metal roof from Follansbee Steel. Willow School uses TCS II, the company’s zinc- and tin alloy-coated architectural stainless steel. Designed to withstand corrosive weather and environments, the roof ages to a natural gray.

“The entire school was built to be environmentally friendly and our TCS II was the ideal fit to help them achieve a LEED certification,” said Edward Thomas, vice president and general manager for Follansbee, a West Virginia-based steelmaker. “TCS II not only enriches the rustic aesthetic appeal of the school but is also virtually maintenance free, which allows for easier upkeep of the building. Because it can withstand corrosion and environmental stress, it was the perfect choice for the planned longevity of the building.”

And Mark Biedron does expect the school to be around for a while. A trustee of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, he and wife Gretchen Johnson Biedron founded the school after they had trouble finding the right kindergarten for their oldest son. The couple wanted a school that celebrated nature and didn’t contain the harsh chemicals or resource-depleting products found in most public and private facilities.

“If we are teaching students to be virtuous, we need to be virtuous with our surroundings,” Biedron, himself a LEED-accredited expert, said. “We have to treat the Earth the same way we should treat each other.”

The school opened in 2003.

Classrooms at the Willow School feature lots of natural light, unlike many schools across the United States. Desks and chairs were made from locally grown wood and floors use recycled materials. Image courtesy of the Willow School.

Differences

Unlike many modern schools, the windows at Willow actually open, allowing in fresh air. A sensor lets pupils know when the outside temperature is between 65°F and 80°F, signaling they should open them. It also ensures the school’s high-efficiency HVAC system - 40 percent above American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers’ standards - only runs when necessary. Natural light is used throughout the building, and artificial lighting sources automatically dim when they aren’t needed.

But all of the energy-saving measures inside the school would not have mattered as much if the roof were just destined for a landfill. That made the decision to use metal easy, said Heidi Fichtenbaum, a LEED-certified architect with Farewell Mills Gatsch Architects of Princeton, N.J., which designed the $4.6 million school.

“We made the choice for a standing-seam roof because we were planning for water collection,” explained Fichtenbaum. “Metal was the best choice to collect the (rain) water, which is now used to flush the toilets.”

The roof was installed by Ringoes, N.J.-based Strober Roofing Metal Works.

Water from the roof of the 14,500-square-foot building runs into a 57,000-gallon underground tank, where it is stored until needed for sanitary use. Some of the water is also cleaned and used to irrigate the vegetation that surrounds the campus.

The Willow School’s front door shows the LEED-gold award the building received in 2004. Image courtesy of the Willow School.

Long lasting

The Follansbee roof met school and USGBC officials’ high standards for using renewable materials.

“The roof, which contains 70 to 95 percent recycled content, is very durable and that is important for a school, because the building should last several hundred years, not just 20,” Fitchtenbaum said.

The school, which currently has around 80 students whose parents pay several thousand dollars a year in tuition, is looking to expand. Plans include more classrooms, a performing arts building, a gymnasium and cafeteria connected to a greenhouse where the school will grow its own food and compost waste.

Biedron said environmentally responsible construction projects like the Willow School aren’t as expensive as some people think. It only costs 2 percent to 5 percent more than traditional methods, he said.

“And the savings are huge in the long run,” he added. “We are saving about 50 percent on traditional energy costs.”

School officials point to studies that say for every $3 to $5 per square foot in extra construction expenses, a building saves $50 to $70 dollars on energy bills and related expenses. Worker productivity is also higher in sustainable buildings, and in the case of green schools like Willow, pupil test scores are higher as well, they add.

For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail devriesj@bnpmedia.com.