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Over the past months we have posted a few blogs on a new sustainable greenhouse prototype we are developing.  We have received comments from a number of traditional greenhouse users with concerns that this new prototype will not be capable of plant starts because of inadequate light levels.  The prototype does push the envelope of greenhouse design but through the use of careful daylighting strategies not typically implemented it is capable of effective plant starts.  The Research and Development greenhouse that is the basis for our prototype started over 1,000 tomato plants last spring without the use of supplemental light.

To understand how this works a typical all glass or plastic glazed greenhouse has no reflective surfaces and the glazing reduces light transmission into the greenhouse by up to 40%, or more.  This means that the light levels entering a traditional greenhouse are first significantly reduced by passing through the glazing and then any light that does not immediately hit a plant surface is either absorbed by the ground or passes back through the glass and out of the greenhouse.

The sustainable greenhouse prototype uses some of the clearest glazing available and a number of reflective surfaces to increase light levels inside the greenhouse.  First, reflective surfaces on the outside of the greenhouse, i.e. light shelves and reflective roof surface, bounce additional light into the greenhouse.  This reflected light allows more sunlight through each window than would direct light alone increasing the effective aperture size without more or larger windows.  Next, the clear glazing allows more of this light to pass into the greenhouse compared to a similar area of glazing on a typical greenhouse.  Finally, although the greenhouse is made up of a number of opaque walls and roofs each of these is covered with a white reflective surface.  The reflective surfaces inside the greenhouse mean that any light that does not immediately hit a plant or the ground is bounced around inside the greenhouse until it does.  Through a combination of thoughtful daylighting strategies our prototype greenhouse achieves adequate light level for plant growth and plant starts with fewer windows than a traditional greenhouse.

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If you have been following our blog postings, you’ve noted our commitment to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) programs, and the pride we’ve shared with the Cherry Creek School District (CCSD) and other project team members in bringing their award winning Institute of Science & Technology (IST) to life.  Now that the school is open, we’ve been pleased to support the interest of the education and design community with presentations and tours of the facility.  Toward the end of last year, IST hosted the USGBC’s Emerging Green Builders for a presentation and tour.  The design of high performance STEM schools is about more than just the building.  At this event, we were able to present the collaborative program and concept development we shared with the CCSD, school administrators, teachers, and the local community.  This process led to the development of a facility that is not just energy efficient, but also inspiring, specific, and adaptable to the curriculum needs of IST’s STEM program.

After the presentation, the USGBC members were given a tour of the facility to see how daylighting strategies were integrated into the classroom; the unique learning opportunities that are an integral part of the facility (including the basement mechanical room that was detailed to provide an educational opportunity for students); and the laboratory classrooms that support advanced learning.  These include a physics lab with ceiling-mounted hangers and tracks for advanced experiments; an avionics lab with flight simulators; a robotics lab; and chemistry/biology labs with lecture and experiment-based learning stations.  The tour also included the collaborative teacher lounge that is now in demand from other teachers on the Overland Campus.  Others that have toured the facility include: the Council for Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI), the Chinese Mayoral Delegation, various parent groups, and other local school districts.

In our earlier posting on the Kent Denver School, you will also find that we work hard to integrate learning into the physical structure of many of our schools.  IST was another opportunity to do so.  In addition to an active daylight tracking device that provides both light in the main stairwell as well as opportunities for experiment, there is an LED starfield of the north sky in the lobby, latitude and longitude markers integrated into the floor throughout the building, and outdoor plazas based on mathematical concepts such as the Fibonacci sequence.

IST is an excellent example of the possibilities of collaboration. On February 28,2012  we have an exciting tour and information session planned as part of the upcoming Green Schools National Conference in Denver.   Additionally, if your district, school, or professional group is interested in touring this facility at another time, please contact us and we’d be honored to assist you.

By Alan Doggett

Links to other STEM/IST posts from HAS:   STEM for All, IST Wins Peak Award, Kent Denver Science Sun Path, STEM Education- January 2011, Dr. Gubser Speaks