Landmark Montana center lays foundation for sustainability education
Photo courtesy of Whitefish School District
An innovative educational center – and the first net-zero facility in Montana – is scheduled to open to coincide with Earth Day 2018.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony and grand opening of the Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship (CSE) is set for Saturday, April 21.
The CSE is managed by the Whitefish School District, providing applied learning experiences for K-12 students in energy, agriculture, forestry, natural resources and entrepreneurship, according to a release. The fundamental objective of the program is to prepare Whitefish students for college, career and citizenship by immersing them in interdependent, real-world programs.
The $2.65 million project was funded mostly through community philanthropy along with some local, regional and national grants. The two-story classroom building and greenhouse on the high school campus was constructed with renewable energy systems such as geothermal and solar, and building features such as triple-pane windows.
The idea for the center evolved from an existing "Farm to School" garden and the need for a greenhouse.
Originally, the Whitefish Lions Club, in collaboration with school district food services director, established a garden to teach students how to grow food to serve in the school cafeteria. Free Flow Club students worked with local philanthropist Richard Atkinson through the "Older Man Walking" campaign to raise the initial $70,000 in funding for the "greenhouse" idea.
Because of “generous support, the efforts of students to build a greenhouse has grown into the state's first net-zero facility, including classrooms, laboratories, a greenhouse, energy systems, production gardens, orchards, and an experimental forest," superintendent Dr. Heather Davis Schmidt said.
The curriculum for the CSE is being developed for kindergarten through high school.
Through a hands-on approach, students will learn about healthy food systems, sustainable farming practices, agriculture production and research and soil science. Students will learn to plant, grow, and harvest vegetables to be used in the school cafeterias.
Partnering with local forestry-related companies, U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service, students will learn about the growth, health, composition and quality of forests. Students will use geographic information systems and other tools to research and apply forest management and water quality improvement techniques.
High school students will learn the economics of sustainability, working with local businesses on researching waste reduction trends and cost-saving needs, examining how waste is created and tracking personal consumption.
Opportunities will be available to help develop business and marketing plans, managing production and distribution and applying principles of sustainability to all facets of business practices. Working directly with community partners, students will learn about energy consumption, energy modeling and technologies, green building practices, and strategies for reducing the community's carbon footprint.
"The net-zero facility will be the living model for all the work that is done inside the facility," Davis Schmidt said. "It's such an incredible opportunity for our students to learn about our land, water, soil, plants and animals and how the management of our natural resources affects the quality of life for present and future generations."
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