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STEM education and the Big Ass Fan.

Posted by suzanne at Feb 08, 2013 11:25 AM |

Steve Rice, Senior Principal at Bremerton-based architectural firm Rice Fergus Miller (RFM) loves talking about their new office space. And it usually begins and ends with the Big Ass Fan that circulates air throughout the most energy efficient office building in the Northwest.

STEM education and the Big Ass Fan.

Chris Bast, Business Partnerships Manager

By Chris Bast
Climate Solutions

In the end, it’s all about the Big Ass Fan.

Steve Rice, Senior Principal at Bremerton-based architectural firm Rice Fergus Miller (RFM) loves talking about their new office space. And it usually begins and ends with the Big Ass Fan that circulates air throughout the most energy efficient office building in the Northwest.

The building is a retrofit of an old Sears facility that sat vacant for a quarter century while Bremerton’s retail shops headed out of downtown. For sure, the LEED Platinum building has a LEED score that places it among the top three commercial buildings in the country. But what Steve likes to talk about the most is the firm’s commitment to community and the innovative way they turned their lobby into a town hall able to host events of all types and sizes in their unique and one-of-a-kind space.

Earlier this week Climate Solutions helped RFM put on their 44th event in this cool new space: a symposium for educators and west sound school districts about how the built environment can play a key role in a STEM curriculum.

STEM-based education (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) is a key priority for education advocates and an emphasis of the Inslee Administration.

STEM education is also a key climate solution. To create a clean energy future, mitigate future climate disruption, and steel ourselves against the new era of consequences we will need citizens who are fully educated in the STEM disciplines and understand how to apply them to solve the many challenges we face.

The schools I attended for K-12 were pretty basic: windowless classrooms, chalk boards, maybe an overhead projector. We certainly didn’t have access to understand how the HVAC equipment worked, and I don’t think even any of the science teachers really understood the composting potential of the cafeteria or the restrooms. So I was amazed by Ric Cochrane’s presentation about the range of possibilities of incorporating the built environment into the learning environment. Ric emphasized the difference between a space designed for housing and teaching students and a space that is designed specifically with the child’s development in mind. Pretty awesome things happen when you change that perspective.

Meredith Lohr from Washington Green Schools talked about some of those things. What stood out to me was the Bertschi School. Students here were directly involved in the retrofit of their building and asked what features they would like to see. Composting toilets, an indoor river, rain barrels, and living vegetative walls are all incorporated into a learning environment that embeds sustainability deep into the curriculum.  As Meredith emphasized, you don’t have to be Bertschi to engage students in the sustainability of their built environment. Case studies on their website like Maple Elementary demonstrate how students can help reduce waste and improve their communities. These lessons will last a lifetime.

These lessons in practical climate solutions have been recognized by the state of Washington as important investments for our clean economy future. The 2012 Jobs Now Act allocates $78 million to fund energy and operational cost saving improvements in public buildings across the state – over half of this money ($40 million) has been set aside for K-12 schools. These competitive grants assure high leverage and cost-effective performance and follow on $48 million in state funding in 2010-11 that resulted millions of leveraged local and private dollars, hundreds of jobs created, and significant energy and water savings and real carbon reductions.

These investments are a key pathway to a sustainable prosperity and should continue to be a priority for the legislature and the Inslee Administration.

The idea of how the learning environment can contribute to a student’s understanding of the built environment and their environmental footprint takes us back to the Big Ass Fan and Steve Rice. To hear Steve explain it, when folks come to the defacto community center at Rice Fergus Miller, invariably someone will ask about the fan. Everything about the fan is big. It hangs from the third floor ceiling over an open space cut into the interior of the building and your eyes can’t help but be drawn to it from the lobby below. And, it just so happens, the fan is made by Big Ass Fans.

Once you get past the giggles Steve is only happy to explain about the building’s efficiency features: the repurposed materials, recycled rainwater in the bathrooms, efficient lighting, and the ridiculously efficient building envelope that is designed to work with the outside air to only heat or cool the building when the outside air temperature is outside of the 55-75 degree range. And that brings us back to the fan. The efficiency of the building envelope relies on the fan to evenly distribute air throughout the building; it’s a key component that ties everything together.

This is science, technology, engineering, and math practically applied to create one of the most efficient buildings in the country.

For more about how school districts in Washington are incorporating efficiency into their buildings – check out the Tale of Two Schools Solutions Story below:


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