What do worms, geothermal wells and rice husk have to do with school? Everything. For nearly 50 years, Chiaravalle Montessori has been helping children practice environmental stewardship as an integral part of its toddler-8th grade programming. Every person in the community has a responsibility to care for the Earth. Toddlers begin to water and tend the garden, preschoolers grow butterflies and sort recycling. Elementary children work to restore endangered prairielands and manage school-wide vermiculture composting. Middle School students take up to three outdoor education trips per year and grow hydroponic basil for a local restaurant. This year, in conjunction with expanding the already-robust green practices, the school strives to inspire future generations of learners by replacing an aged annex with an eco-conscious addition coined the North Wing.

The North Wing was designed by Cannon Designs to provide the ideal stage for integrated studies, a music and movement studio, a Da Vinci Arts and Science studio, a Global Learning Lab, theater, library, gym and a community gathering space called the Hub. Each space was designed to blur the lines between nature and the outdoors. Ample natural light, large windows, and healthy building materials are utilized. Color schemes in the addition were chosen to reflect a love of nature and the environment – a subtle reminder that even younger children will see.

When designing the North Wing, Chiaravalle decided to pursue LEED Platinum certification, demonstrating a core value of Montessori to care for the environment. This LEED Platinum status has informed many material choices in the building, as well as the solar panels and geothermal heating and cooling system. The majority of construction waste is being recycled with a goal of 75%. There is even a high goal (50%) for the amount of sustainably harvested wood that’s being used. The outside of the building will even be covered in an attractive, sturdy product made of rice husk!

The construction of the North Wing has given students the opportunity to learn as we build. Students talk with architects and contractors about solar and geothermal energy sources, plants used on the green roof, air quality, the impact of our environment on health and lowering our carbon footprint. With construction on schedule for a fall 2015 opening, students, teachers, and parents are excited for the new opportunities that The North Wing will give them to continue living green. Chiaravalle is proud to join the City of Evanston and the many Evanston residents and business leaders in their commitment to model sustainable living for the broader community and are very proud to soon have one of the few LEED Platinum schools in the state.