VAIL VALLEY, Colorado - Gore Range Natural Science School's new campus in the Vail Valley could become the greenest school in Colorado.From solar panels to grass-covered roofs to recycled newspapers as insulation, the design for the campus the school plans to build in Avon is packed with environmentally-friendly features.In fact, school officials are shooting for the highest rating the U.S. Green Building Council offers for eco-friendly construction. That would be platinum certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design system, better known as L.E.E.D."That's a lofty goal for them to go for," said Deb Kleinman, executive director of the U.S. Green Building Council's Colorado chapter. "That's exciting."If school officials meet their goal, Gore Range Natural Science School would be the first school to get platinum status, Kleinman said.Located on 5 acres nestled in the mountains, the new school will stand near a pond, wetlands and hiking trails, school executive director Markian Feduschak said. That's a fitting setting for a school that encourages children to explore nature. For local children, the school offers field trips into Eagle County's outdoors and three- to five- day summer camps focusing on science, Feduschak said. The school also provides nature-oriented programs for visitors to the Vail area, he said.The school occupies an administrative office above Loaded Joe's in Avon while classes take place at various locations throughout Eagle County, Feduschak said.However, Gore Range Natural Science School officials say they have long envisioned a centralized campus where they could hold indoor as well as outdoor programs for more students. They also want to cultivate a place where visitors can study mountain ecology, Feduschak said.On the heels of three years of fundraising, work on the $10 million campus is set to begin in July, he said.To match the school's mission, the design tries to work with, not against, the environment. Brian Sipes, a principal with Zehren & Associates in Avon, the architecture firm designing the campus, described the project as "the best kind of challenge.""We've talked from the very beginning of this project about integrated design," he said. "The environmental features weave themselves throughout the entire building. They're part of the basic decision-making process on everything we've done."School officials did not have estimates available for how much extra money it cost to build the school to platinum standards.In general, Kleinman said building a platinum-rated building can add 0 to 3 percent of the total project cost to the price tag. However, green building can reduce energy costs by 24 to 50 percent, she said.Perhaps more important to school officials than the money is the message the building sends to students about environmental stewardship."We are building a campus where the building themselves will teach," Feduschak said.When finished, the campus will include four buildings along Buck Creek Road. Plans include a 6,000-square-foot mountain discovery center complete with a visitors' center and educational displays. Administrative offices will occupy the second floor.Next to the discovery center, a community hall will house large gatherings like lectures. The 2,200-square-foot building also divides into two classrooms.Moving closer to the pond, a smaller 1,100-square-foot classroom could serve as a headquarters for aquatic field research and other programs.Finally, a pair of two-story structures will house teachers. The school plans to hire four more educators, bringing the total to eight.Officials hope to start work on the mountain discovery center and community hall in July, with plans to open for the 2011 school year.As for the other two buildings, the timing of their construction will hinge on when the school raises the remaining $1.5 million it needs for the project, said Doug Dusenberry, the school's capital campaign director. The school has raised $8.5 million so far, he said. Oscar and Argie Tang donated the land.If the school gets its platinum rating, it could be one of the more accessible green buildings in the state. Although a recreation center and library boast platinum status, most of the nine buildings to receive that rating as of April are offices or commercial space, Kleinman said.The Gore Range Natural Science School, with its visitors' center and interactive displays, will be open to Vail-area visitors."This really could be a showcase for the kind of sustainable design features schools across the state could use, and commercial buildings across the state could use," Dusenberry said.Staff Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2928 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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