A Little Class: Clean, Well-Lit Modular Green Spaces for Kids


There are (or were) few things as wonderfully tech-free as the little red schoolhouse. A single room, a few wooden desks, a corresponding number of quaint textbooks (paper) and, well, okay, a chalkboard. I guess that counts for technology. But, still, write on it 100 times: “Keep it simple. Keep it simple. Keep it simple”¦” And then add: “With nothing toxic. With nothing toxic. With nothing toxic”¦”

Unfortunately, the classroom has not been immune from the hazards of “progress,” both in terms of its impact on our environment as well as on the health of the people (namely, kids) who benefit from it. But from asbestos to lead paint, where our children learn has rightly been on the forefront of our society’s efforts to clean itself up. And this summer, the Bolsa Knolls Middle School in Salinas, California, turned such efforts into a proactive initiative by installing new, environmentally friendly schoolrooms for its sixth and seventh graders.

The modular classrooms are dubbed Gen7, by their West Coast manufacturer, American Modular Systems (AMS). The prefab “green learning spaces” were constructed off-site and delivered to Bolsa Knolls over the summer, just in time for the start of the school year.

To create the classrooms, AMS started with green and efficient electrical and mechanical systems and integrated them into its established “building envelope.” The finished product contains mostly recycled and recyclable materials, and low and zero VOC (volatile organic compound) interiors. Insulation in the walls and roof make for a quiet learning space and minimize heat and cooling loss. (Oh, and how’s this for school cool: One of the recycled materials used in the structures’ insulation is denim fabric scraps.) Meanwhile smart lighting is provided by “natural daylight harvesting.”

Test results: the whole shebang exceeds California’s Title 24 Energy Code by more than 30 percent.

The off-site construction method, says AMS, means reduced energy demands, without chemicals or toxins or waste requiring landfills required at the project location, which is good for the local community. And “because our Gen7 schoolrooms are modular, they can be installed and ready for students in as few as 90 days,” said Tony Sarich, AMS’ vice president of operation. Read: over the summer. (Summer. As in “where did that go?”)


Here’s some more info for our loyal “Spec-Heads”: Smart Thermal Displacement Ventilation (TDV) system reduces electricity use and costs by 35 percent; grid-neutral design structure; programmable lighting that’s natural daylight harvesting; Low-E, solar band 60 dual-glazed operable windows and programmable Energy Star-rated tubular skylights that lower electricity usage. Oh, and the roof is designed to allow the installation of photo-voltaic power panels. Okay, folks, now settle down.

Behind the scenes, AMS is also promoting itself as an excellent green corporate citizen “dedicated to earth-friendly manufacturing practices.” Its facilities “employ a range of green practices, including daylight harvesting at its 280,000-square-foot enclosed manufacturing space, efficient office lighting and heating/cooling, effective water-saving devices and have installed a rooftop solar-capturing system to offset energy usage.” Want more? Its site even mentions that plant employees carpool to work and jobsites in “modern, CA emission-compliant vehicles.”

The results of all this could be dramatic: According to AMS, kids attending green schools are posting “20 percent higher test scores, fewer absences due to respiratory illness, lower faculty healthcare costs and higher teacher retention.” Also big on the agenda is money savings, which can mean strapped school systems end up with more green. According to The Californian, Trevor Miller, the district’s facilities consultant, each 1,000-square-foot classroom costs the district about $180,000 or half the cost of a conventional classroom. Write that a hundred times: “Half the cost. Half the cost. Half…”

Also see: Crisp Green

Scott Adelson

Scott Adelson is EcoSalon's Senior Editor of HyperKulture, a monthly column that explores opening cultural doors to initiate personal change. He is also the author of InPRINT, which reviews and discusses books, new and old. You can reach him at scott@adelson.org.