It’s taken the better part of five years, but Isaac Dickson Elementary School Principal Brad Johnson is beginning to see the light at the end of tunnel.
“Currently, [we’ve completed] our first year at the new site. Overall, the process took about five years from the planning to the demolition, construction, and delays to our current reality inhabiting the school,” said Johnson in the summer of 2017. “We had teachers and students involved every step of the way in designing the new building. Each wing is different based upon the different needs of the students. We’ve been on our new campus for a full year now and are looking forward to the start of a new school year.”
Johnson sees not only a new chapter for the school, but also new opportunities moving ahead. Green initiatives are continually being added to the long-term design of the property, and most importantly, to the curriculum.
“We’re harvesting all the rainwater that falls on the hard surfaces, and we use that water to irrigate the landscape and flush toilets in our bathrooms,” said Johnson. “Daylighting is used extensively throughout our school. Research tells us that students perform better and are better able to pay attention with natural lighting. Geothermal wells are also utilized to decrease fossil fuel energy consumption.”
“Our school is pre-wired for photovoltaic panels,” Johnson continues. “There’s a current effort underway to close a funding gap. Those funds would provide our school with about an acre of PV, which would make our school a net-zero school.”
The Green Built Alliance of Asheville has been among the catalysts for Isaac Dickson’s efforts, primarily through its Appalachian Offsets Program. Appalachian Offsets is a voluntary carbon offset program that offers businesses, organizations, and individuals the option to easily reduce or offset their carbon footprint.
The core of what Isaac Dickson is trying to provide is a lifelong well of academic knowledge for their students. This education goes far beyond the usual classroom subjects. Here, a passion for agriculture and sustainable practices is learned early on, only to transition into a love for the outdoors that ensures an appreciation for Mother Nature.
“The ultimate vision is to have students become responsible stewards of our environment,” said Johnson. “Our kids are immersed in an experiential education at Isaac Dickson each day. Our gardens, nature trail, chickens, and greenhouse teach them to care for our community and environment. We’re preparing kids for their future.”
In addition to the priceless learning experiences for the kids, Johnson also sees the lessons as a two-way experience between the pupils and their teachers. Both sides are coming away from their time together with a better understanding of each other and the natural world in general.
“For me, this has been an incredible experience. Our teachers and students were able to have a true voice in the design of the building so that it best met the needs of the children and staff,” said Johnson. “Combined with that, we were able to construct a school that is outfitted with green technologies. Our students, staff, and parents have been incredibly supportive and involved in our school, both before our new building and after.”
Isaac Dickson also looks at itself as a template for other schools, perhaps even commercial spaces. Their information and techniques can be shared between academic institutions and the community as a whole.
“I think people are becoming more aware of issues that affect our climate and environment,” said Johnson. “Here in Asheville, I think we have been ahead of the curve in terms of living responsibly. For many of our parents, our school and the strategies we use to save energy dovetail nicely with shared values.”