No-mow grass. Solar tube skylights. Playground made of 90 percent recycled materials. Air conditioning exhaust recovered and reused. Lights automatically turn off when rooms are vacant. Dual flush toilets to save water. It all adds up to a very “green” school building and Carol Maier Martorano is very proud of it.
The 1996 graduate is principal of Alexander Graham Bell Montessori School in the Chicago suburb of Wheeling, Ill., and the school recently moved into a new building that is environmentally friendly.
“We had outgrown our old building, so we decided to build a new facility,” says Martorano. “Somebody wondered if we would consider going green and that got us thinking. We had already started working with the architect and ran the idea by him. The architect and builder had never done anything like this before, but they learned along with us. We’re all happy we did it. When you realize how easy it is to do certain things and how positive it is, it’s such a good thing to go green. Some aspects of it were more expensive to build, but we will recoup that cost in the money it will save us, in things like lower utility bills.”
No-mow grass around the building only grows to a certain height and doesn’t have to be mowed as often, saving fuel and pollution. Solar tubes in the roof increase sunlight coming through skylights. Martorano recalls that “when the fire marshal came through, he said, ‘Wow, those lights are really bright,’ and the project manager said, ‘Those aren’t lights, that’s natural sunlight.’ All the natural light has an effect on the students. It seems calmer in the classroom. I think they’re enjoying all that natural light and the Vitamin D they get from it.”
Outside, each classroom has its own garden, with rain barrels that collect rain to water the plants. “A green building is a very natural fit in a Montessori environment where a lot of Mother Earth—taking care of your environment—is incorporated into the curriculum,” says Martorano. “Our students have always been very conscious about recycling and reusing materials. When we introduced the elements of our green building to our students, it wasn’t something completely new to them. They were familiar with this concept.”