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Barnette Magnet School students win national award for green school design

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Posted: Monday, May 17, 2010 3:36 am | Updated: 1:04 pm, Wed Dec 26, 2012.

FAIRBANKS — The school of the future is a net-zero-energy building with three triangular wings, a solar array, green roof, spherical dome and astronomy aqua-tower, all straddling a river. And it resides in Fairbanks.

SubZero Middle School is a futuristic model designed by 10 students from Barnette Magnet Middle School. On April 30, the group won first place and a $2,000 prize for Barnette in the nationwide School of the Future competition in Washington, D.C. The class spent a week in D.C. in late April, competing against seven other finalists and presenting its project before 20 judges.

“I’m most proud of it because it’s not some far-fetched idea. It’s very realistic,” said Eliza Lawler, who took a feeder guppy to Washington to stock the mockup of the Chena River.

“You get a bunch of 12- and 13-year-olds together, and it’s amazing. It’s unbridled imagination,” said local architect Steve Keller, who helped students with the project and accompanied them to D.C. “They’re thinking like adults, but they don’t have the constraints that full-grown adults have.”

Back in Fairbanks, in the afterglow of victory, the students demonstrated their model’s features in the school lobby.

Lawler opened a valve on part of the model’s floor that sat over the Chena River, several miles downstream from the Aurora Energy power plant.

“If you open the aperture, hot air rises into the dome and cool air rushes up to fill the space so we won’t need A.C.,” she said.

“We calculated each student uses three gallons of water per day. We collect rainwater and store it in the astronomy aqua-tower,” she said.

The glass aqua-tower is arched to withstand the impact of ice flowing down the river.

“It’s modeled after the shell of a chicken egg, where the chicken can sit on it and it won’t break,” Aubrea Stoltz said.

Dakota Myers described the green roof and greenhouse. “We grow produce for the school to eat and for the farmer’s market,” he said.

A dome over the common area provides natural lighting and shade, Ben Witmer said. Inside the school, “mirrors on the south walls reflect sun to classrooms on the north side.”

The project started as a class, and then took on a life of its own, said teacher Colleen Smith.

In response to the class’s enthusiasm, Smith enlisted local mentors such as Keller and Fairbanks North Star Borough school district projects manager Larry Morris. After the class ended, students continued to spend evenings and weekends at USKH architectural firm working with architects and using professional design software and leftover samples.

They also toured the Cold Climate Housing Research Center and a power plant to learn about energy, and did some underground research.

“We went under the city and saw the utilidors. It’s a whole world down there,” Smith said.

While at the nation’s capital, students visited the offices of Sen. Mark Begich and Sen. Lisa Murkowski and talked about green energy.

Their discussion of the project shows they absorbed not just an understanding of architecture and green technology but also of teamwork.

“The most important thing is we actually debated everything and picked the best ideas,” team member Hailey Zacheis said.

They weren’t the only ones impacted by the experience.

“It’s been one of the most meaningful things that I’ve had in my career to date, and I’ve been an architect for over 25 years,” Keller said.

Contact staff writer Molly Rettig at 459-7590.

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