Fueled by a desire to resurrect the Harley School’s original campus barn and to give students a resource for learning about new technology and sustainability, the $3 million Commons is slated to open in early December.
The project broke ground on Nov. 26, 2012, with a lead gift of $1 million from the Chesonis Family Foundation to support students’ learning about sustainability and real-world skills such as solving problems, making decisions and dealing with mistakes. The other $2 million was raised by alumni, students and parents.
The 15,000-square-foot LEED-certified barn represents a hybrid of tradition and innovation. The original barn was on the property when it was bought for the school in 1926, and it remained until it was torn down in 1974. The current project unites alumni who can remember classes in the original barn with current students who will be expected to operate the new barn as they learn about sustainability.
The new building displays this contrast. Original wood beams from an old barn were brought in to give a feeling of warmth to a space with contemporary design including elements such as a 37,500-pound tilt-up construction wall and 84 solar panels.
"The building itself can be viewed as an ecosystem, and to understand how each of these systems interplay with each other and (that) they’re co-dependent, (that is a) very powerful thing for kids to learn at this age," said Ken Motsenbocker, chief financial officer at Harley. "It does live to the extent that one system impacts the other one and it’s going to get out of whack, and that’s cool. It’s going to get sick; it’s going to need the doctor, but that’s part of living, part of evolving."
Designer Tom Johnson worked with John Nichols, president and CEO of Nichols Construction Inc. and Christopher Costanza, architect at 9×30 Design LLP.
A control center in the building will allow students to set the temperature of the building, monitor how much energy is produced and track the building’s energy use through the seasons. The goal is initially to bring the building to net-zero status in energy, water and carbon dioxide consumption and eventually to produce more energy than it uses.
"We really liked the idea of citizen scientists for the next generation," said Arunas Chesonis, CEO and chairman of Sweetwater Energy Inc., as well as donor of the lead gift for the building. "People need to understand the challenges of the world we’re living in. They’re never too young to learn about sustainability."
He added: "The U.S. has already built out infrastructure. … How can you tell someone in India they can’t have clean drinking water? It’s about empathy, science and sustainability; we need to teach children and help them understand the challenges of what other people are going through. I think 20 years from now thousands of public and private schools will have a center like this on campus. You’ve got to start somewhere."
Faculty member and 1993 alumnus Chris Hartman is credited with the idea of returning a barn to the campus, since he told former head of school Tim Cottrell in 2008 that a 19th-century post-and-beam barn owned by the Hawkins family in Victor would be available for purchase soon. Hartman was a catalyst for bringing a barn back to the school.
"It totally is (a) serendipitous type thing," said Hartman, director of social and environmental sustainability at the Harley School. "The history of Harley starting in a barn, the desire to be green and reusing a structure-everything sort of (came together)."
He added: "It’s such a small, tight, passion(ate), energetic type (of) school that the history of the place and the relationships and the stories are a big part of what even happens today. The barn is a legend around here."
The school spent $1,000 to purchase the Victor barn, approximately the same age as its original one, from David Reh, founder of Gorbel Inc. and Retrotech Inc. and owner and founder of Ravenwood Golf Course, where the barn was located. It was nearly identical in size to the old Harley barn. Reh donated $1,000 to the Harley Fund to get the project moving forward.
The school’s 32-acre plot of land on Clover Street in Brighton used to be an orchard. The school was founded in 1917 by a group of women, including Harriet Bentley (the H-a-r and the l-e-y from her name formed the school’s name), and moved to its Clover Street location in 1926 under head of school Louise Sumner.
Occupancy of the new building is to begin in early December, and the addition will end nearly 40 years without a representation of its original campus building.
Six classes can take place in the three floors of the building at one time. As a common building, many different classes can use the building despite the scientific focus.
The ground floor is to be a project space for hands-on learning. Workshops and projects such as woodworking or theater set design will take place there as the energy from the projects is monitored.
The first floor features the Science Center, where the control center is housed and where students are to engage in programs such as the Environmental Leadership Collaborative. The first floor is to give students experience in using scientific data for civic engagement relating to global scientific issues.
The 3,000-square-foot Briggs Center for Civic Engagement will promote civic discourse on the second floor of the barn with a large space for assemblies. The second floor will house the Center for Mindfulness and Empathy Education. The school secured a $250,000 grant from the Edward E. Ford Foundation to provide teacher education and professional development for teaching empathy.
Since sustainability is a focus for educating students, the building will be sustainable itself, using active and passive energy. Some of the sustainable building aspects include two 24-inch solar chimneys, 84 photovoltaic panels, geothermal heat, a 300-gallon rainwater collection tank, a green wall, a 600-square-foot green roof and a 1,000-square-foot greenhouse for sequestering carbon. The project requires nearly 16,000 pounds of glass.
"This is a good example of a commercial building that takes into consideration all different kinds of technologies, from passive energy that’s 2,000 years old to brand-new technology that’s just been in the United States for a few years," Costanza said. "And it’s a way of putting that technology together to make a building that really shows where the future of the built environment is going.
"This is on the forefront of how buildings will be built going forward the next 100 years."
The barn’s full use is not determined, since it will rely on student interpretation. Students are excited about the new building but also are questioning if teachers actually will give them control of it.
"What’s great about this building is it’s yet to be determined. A lot of it is left unpopulated, unfurnished; all of that will be determined by the students who use it," said Terry Fonda Smith, head of the lower school and commons coordinator. "The students will be at the center of how the building is used."
Ultimately the space is open for both success and failure under student leadership.
"The beauty of what we’re doing here, I believe, is we’re not going to hire an engineer to come in and figure out how to monitor each of these circuits and tell the kids how much power (the building needs)," Motsenbocker said.
"We want the kids to figure out how all this data can be monitored. … If we can, we need to empower the kids to go through the process to learn. That’s going to take some time, and there’s going to be growing pains there."
In exposing students to energy-efficient buildings, the hope is to get them thinking about energy in new ways.
"I think (what) is most fascinating about this is the global issues we have with climate change, deforestation. … It’s these kids who are going to have to solve that, and the opportunity to be involved with this project, that’s what really prepares them for that type of stuff," said Seth O’Bryan, commons coordinator and upper school math teacher.
School officials believe what is learned from this project will serve students after they leave the school.
"There is a reason the building is called the Commons, in the sense of it’s everybody’s building," Smith said. "This big social experiment: Can you get everybody invested in it? This should transfer back to the main Harley campus as well, in that you’re responsible for it to an extent. You can’t just live in it without having accountability for your choices."
The new building is a source of pride for the school’s administrators and teachers.
"A lot of schools are thinking about technology like this as they consider additions or new builds, … but very few schools are thinking about that technology and then putting it into the hands of the students," Hartman said.
Administrators believe the addition will add to Harley’s reputation in the community.
"It’s a strategic move by the school to maintain our position as the school in Rochester, and this is going to do it," Motsenbocker said.
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