In 2007, Sidewell Friends School renovated and modernized its urban campus. An enlarged middle school building now includes an outdoor living laboratory that features a green roof, terraced wetland, rain garden, and habitat pond. This space functions as an extension of the classroom where students can learn about sustainable practices.
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The landscape and building function as a single integrated system that is designed to capture, clean, and re-use wastewater from the school. Dirty water and sewage flows from the kitchen and bathrooms into settling tanks, where solids are removed, before being released underground in the constructed wetland. The water circulates through the landscape for three to five days before it is re-used in the building’s toilets and cooling tower.
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Terraced wetlands step down the hill of the courtyard as they act as the primary filtration mechanism for building wastewater. Below the surface, dirty water from the kitchen and bathrooms flows through the dirt and sand to remove contaminants. Because the water never breaches the surface, students in the courtyard cannot smell odor nor contact the water directly.
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A separate, yet equally dynamic system is designed to capture and clean storm water runoff. All paved surfaces drain into vegetated swales, which filter runoff through sand and plant material before directing it to the courtyard’s rain garden and habitat pond. The system promotes groundwater recharge and prevents polluted runoff from entering the city storm drains.
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The green roof on top of the new middle school building adds another layer to the school’s stormwater management system. Rather than diverting rain water to gutters and storm drains, the living roof absorbs water into its soils where it is stored and taken up by resident native plants. In large storms, clean water overflows into a drain pipe that leads to the habitat pond.
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The habitat pond, filled with storm water and located at the bottom of the sunken courtyard, acts as a center for learning and recovery. Science classes experience the benefits of water management systems by comparing water quality before and after it enters the filtration system.
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The wetland, rain garden, and green roof feature more than 50 plant species native to the Chesapeake Bay Region. The varied plant-types, chosen for their ability to break down pollutants, add color and beauty to the landscape and provide habitat for native wildlife. The landscape has attracted endangered species including the Snowy Owl and Monarch Butterfly.
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The design re-purposed old materials from local construction projects. Before they became walkways, steps, and walls at Sidwell Friends, these flagstones cladded a deconstructed railway bridge 200 miles away.
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