“It was a challenge for everybody,” Biedron says. “The things we did were not typical construction methods, and we had to get things approved. We also had to do a lot of networking and research, but Farewell was very into it, and they did a great job.”

Among the architects’ main contributions is the orientation of the building.

200 Willow School Ext04Click photo to enlarge“It’s a series of classrooms aligned in a linear order with a corridor that links them,” Farewell explains. “The building is configured so the corridor faces south for solar reasons and for daylighting reasons.”

The classrooms are paired under connecting roofs. The entry – between two pairs of the classrooms – is a large meeting space that serves as the core of the school at present.  The architect describes the classrooms as barn-like in character.

“They’re made of mortise-and-tenon timber which has been salvaged from mills,” says Farewell. “They’re very handcrafted spaces and expressive of the materials that have gone into it.”

Barn-like or not – and the classrooms have peaked roofs and high ceilings – they’ve well-insulated and acoustically tight, thanks to 100-percent cotton sound insulation covered with wooden slats salvaged from 80-year-old marine pilings. Other ceilings are covered in tiles made from recycled newspapers and computer-printout runs.

In much the same way, the exterior of the classroom building and the arts building now under construction are made from reclaimed natural stone.

“They came from eastern Pennsylvania and were barns that were on property that was ready to be developed for housing,” Biedron explains. “We have a person who specializes in supplying salvaged stone, and our first building was about 75 percent hand-cut limestone and 25 percent sandstone mixture. We’re using the same thing on the second building to continue the theme.”

Biedron adds that he was referred to the stone supplier, Orefield, Pa.-based Wood Natural Restorations, by someone he knew from Solid Wood Construction.

Kenneth Muth, Wood Natural Restorations’ founder and president, has been in the business of salvaging antique buildings since the late 1970s, and natural stone is one of his specialties.

Both he and Biedron explain that in many cases people ask to have the buildings removed, although in some cases Muth says he pays for the material. A good barn may yield 400-500 tons of stone, and the classroom building took the remains of two barns and a house.

“Much of this old stonework just falls over,” says Muth. “It wasn’t mortared together; instead people used a mix of clay and lime to fill the cracks where it didn’t join perfectly. We just remove the wood framing parts, push the walls over and then pick them up.”

Cleanup involves nothing more than washing with water, since most customers are interested in maintaining the old patina.

Other stonework includes bluestone flagstones disturbed from their original site by Boston’s Big Dig, and granite curbing from an interstate exchange in Connecticut. Actual construction was handled by an Amish mason from the Gladstone area.

“He’s doing the second building as well,” says Biedron.

While the use of recycled materials for the project is impressive, the school places a heavy emphasis on recycling systems, as well. For instance, rainwater from the roof is collected and used to flush toilets, then sent to a manmade wetland filled with plants that absorb pollutants before being returned to the ground.

In much the same way, lights are on sensors and the heating and ventilation system – computer-controlled, of course – shuts down when the air outside is 65°-80° F. At those times, a green light comes on in each classroom, telling the children it’s time to open the windows.

“It’s what we call opening up the comfort zone in the building,” Biedron says. “It’s our ‘Let’s dress a little differently rather than burning all these fossil fuels to keep the building at 72°’ approach.”

Currently, the Biedrons are working to incorporate all the lessons the buildings embody into the curriculum itself. Just as they’re incorporating a mastery of language into ever facet of their students’ studies, they want sustainability to be a framework to delivering knowledge.

“The question is how do you teach them,” Mark Biedron concludes. “What are the examples we can use to allow the children to want to learn this, to have an interest in it and it have a sense of wonder that will translate into authentic learning.”

Client: The Willow School, Gladstone, N.J.
Architect: Farewell Mills Gatsch Architects, Princeton, N.J.
Contractor: Solid Wood Construction, Gladstone, N.J.
Stone Supplier: Wood Natural Restoration, Orefield, Pa.

Original publication ©2007 Western Business Media Inc. Use licensed to the author.


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