• Bertschi Living Building Science Wing

    Seattle, Washington

Bertschi Living Building Science Wing


SEATTLE, WA

Bertschi School Living Science Building, located in 
Seattle’s Capitol Hill Neighborhood, was one of the first projects in the world to pursue the Living Building 
Challenge v2.0 criteria and the first to achieve it. This non‐profit elementary school science wing was collaboratively designed 
with the students and designed pro‐bono by the entire design team. A 20‐kilowatt PV system produces 
all of the electricity for the building and allows students to participate in real‐time monitoring of the 
building’s energy use and solar power production. All the water needed for the building is collected and 
treated on site. This is done through a variety of methods including cisterns for storage, an interior 
green wall of tropical plants which treats grey water and a composting toilet to treat black water. The 
most important aspect of the project is that all sustainable features are visible and functional to 
students to learn ecological concepts that can become intrinsic values for future generations.


Use the icons below to find out how this project approached each Petal of the Challenge.

SITE





© Benjamin Benschneider

Site condition prior to project start:Greyfield

Significant site information:

Located on the visible corner of Lynn Street, Bertschi School Living Science Building is a 1,225 square  
foot building on a 3,888 square foot site that was previously a paved sport court. As an urban campus, 
Bertschi School is on a tight site where every square foot of outdoor space counts. The school has a 
variety of outdoor student learning zones that provide everything from physical activity to quiet 
contemplation. The two garden areas associated with the Living Science Building provide learning 
activities and spaces for quiet interaction among plants and other natural elements in these two 
different examples of urban agriculture. The site also integrates low impact development features to 
manage stormwater and water returned to the ecological flow after use within the building.

Name of Habitat Exchange project:Naches River

Location of Habitat Exchange project:Naches River, Kittitas County, Washington, East Cascades, Modoc Plateau Ecoregion

Name of participating Land Trust:The Nature Conservancy

Land Trust website:  http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/washington/index.htm

 

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WATER





© Bertschi School

Annual Water Use

Utility Supplied for potable use due to regulatory requirement.

Potable Water Use:since April, 2011 - 3,471 gallons

Systems fed:
Classroom sink and restroom lavatory

Harvested onsite:Rainwater, green roof stormwater and greywater

Collection strategies: 
Rainwater is collected from 
the building’s metal roof area as well as an adjacent building’s roof area for indoor water needs. 
Stormwater collected from the green roofs along with the stormwater that overflows from the potable 
water cistern contributes to the irrigation cistern. Greywater from sinks is collected in two Aqua2Use 
filtration units, and pumped up to the indoor green wall for irrigation reducing the need for rainwater 
for irrigation purposes. Blackwater is collected and treated by a composting toilet.


Systems Fed: 

Low Impact Development strategies implemented onsite ensure that all stormwater not used for building or irrigation purposes infiltrates into the soil.  Pervious concrete provides a hard surface for pedestrians while allowing the stormwater to filter through the pavement, removing debris and pollutants, and infiltrate beneath.  Surplus water from the cisterns is directed to a raingarden which provides treatment and flow attenuation prior to infiltration.  These LID strategies mimic the pre-development hydrology of the site, and help to recharge the groundwater beneath the site.

Estimated total water use per capita:56.3 gal/day (assuming 20 students per day average)


Sub‐metering data:N/A


Design tool(s) and calculation method(s):Excel, Western Washington Hydrology Model version 3, 
and interviews with faculty were used to determine water demands for the classroom.


Water Petal related regulatory appeals, including whether successful, name of Authority 
Having Jurisdiction and location:
Currently, the water 
purveyor for the area (Seattle Public Utilities) will not permit another public drinking water system 
within their jurisdiction, which prohibits the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) from 
considering this system for permit. Because this system could serve over 25 people per day year round, 
it is considered a Public Group A Water System. A treatment system appropriate for treating the 
rainwater to potable levels has been installed for future use. Simply turning a few valves and replacing 
a spool piece of pipe will allow the treated rainwater to flow to each fixture.

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ENERGY


© Benjamin Benschneider

Type + size of renewable energy system(s) used: 
20.1 kW rooftop mounted PV system with 225 W Sanyo panels and Enphase micro‐inverters.

Annual Energy Use

Actual:
48.1 kbtu/sf/yr

Simulated/designed: 31.5 kbtu/sf/yr

Energy use intensity: 
 48.1 kbtu/sf/yr

 

 

Actual end use breakdown

Heating:6852 kWh

Cooling:0 kWh

Lighting:4056 kWh (estimated, including green wall lighting, and classroom grow closet)

Fans/pumps:860 kWh (estimated)

Plug loads + equipment:3725 kWh (estimated)

Vertical transport:0 kWh

Domestic hot water:897 kWh (estimated)

Other:3800 kWh (estimated for composting toilet heat, vent, and vaccuum pump

Sub-metering data: 
There is no sub‐metering on this project, there is a single “catch‐all” electric meter that measures 
instantaneous kW and keeps a running tally of total kWh for whole projected. Production from PV 
system is recorded off of manufacturer provided web‐interface.

Design tool(s) and calculation method(s): 
This project was not a good fit for typical energy modeling tools, so a custom spreadsheet was used to 
predict energy use. Using hourly weather data heating energy was estimated (though this was a source 
of error as we were too optimistic in our assumptions for heating system efficiency. Other energy 
consumption was predicted based on reputable studies (such as an LBNL report on aquarium energy usage), manufacturer’s estimates (another source of error, particularly with the composting toilet 
system), or manual calculations.

 

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HEALTH



© Bertschi School

Summary of short- and long-term health considerations for design, construction and occupancy
phases:

From the very outset of this project, health has been a major concern. The creation 
of and advocacy for health was one of the drivers for Bertschi School to undertake the rigorous 
standards of the Living Building Challenge. In design, the team worked to create spaces that provided 
healthy air and daylighting for occupants. The inclusion of the green wall of tropical plants to treat 
grey water has the added benefit of helping to purify the air in the Ecohouse. These are all of particular 
importance for young children as they need an environment that will aid in their concentration and 
academic performance.

Along with this was a detailed consideration for including healthy materials 
that are Red List free. This was a massive undertaking that required the strength of convictions from 
both the owner and design team to pursue rigorous health standards for all building products used in 
the project. In construction, efforts were taken to educate the contractors about the Living Building 
Challenge and the need for healthy materials that promote ingredient transparency in our 
industry.

Since the project's construction took place at an active school, the contractor took extra care 
to ensure other classrooms were not affected by any construction debris, dust or noise. In occupancy, 
all of these health issues from design to construction continue to play a role in supporting a healthy 
environment for students. Interior finishes were reduced and products were selected to virtually 
eliminate any off‐gassing. The students play an active role in their healthy indoor environment by 
controlling the lighting, natural ventilation and caring for the indoor plants that all contribute to a 
successful space. Air quality testing performed during occupancy has proven that the measures taken 
by the design and construction teams along with the owner has helped to ensure a long‐term health 
environment for future generations who use the Bertschi Living Science Building.

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MATERIALS




© Benjamin Benschneider

Summary of approach to achieving the Materials Petal Imperatives
:

Designing a building pro‐bono which would be constructed entirely with community fundraising was a 
great challenge. It was imperative that the team considered every design solution in a fiscally 
responsible manner. The requirement for natural, non‐toxic, and appropriately sourced materials also 
helped to support life‐cycle considerations. Materials were reduced throughout the project including 
the elimination of needless finishes and synthetic materials. Embodied energy of materials, as well as 
the overall building were always taken into consideration and then ultimately offset. Whenever 
possible, materials were reused or reclaimed for use on the Bertschi School Science Living Building 
project.

Construction waste was massively reduced and diverted at 90‐100% levels with absolutely no waste 
being burned. Alternative Daily Cover is not considered a diversion in our calculations. All 46,200 
pounds of construction waste, well under average for this building type, was sorted by hand at the 
Recovery 1 faculty, which garnered a 100% diversion rate for most categories. 
The school employs a rigid recycling and compost program. This includes participation by the student 
body. Students learn to reduce, reuse, recycle and compost waste as well as understanding some of the 
larger global issues of waste streams. For nearly 20 years, the school has been practicing a strict waste 
management program that includes education. Each building on campus is equipped with appropriate 
recycling and compost containers and the students are instructed on how to properly use them.

The Bertschi School Living Building has been designed for thoughtful deconstruction and reuse, if 
necessary. Careful consideration was given to the majority of the buildings architectural and 
mechanical features to allow for easy upgrade or deconstruction and reuse if necessary.

Notable successful Red List Substitutions:

CSI Materformat Division    Original Product    Red List Item   Specified Manufacturer +

Product Names
Division 8    Skylights   PVC   Crystallite Skylights manufacturer removed PVC on request
Division 32   XeroFlor Drain Mat   Phthalates  
Removed from the green roof 
assembly without compromising product performance or warranty. Company could not 
eliminate phthalates from product upon request
Division 7   C/S Group Expansion Joints   NA   Used Balco, Inc. Expansion Joints as a Red List Free alternative

Although not used on this project because product did not meet spec, our team worked with 
Flotender Grey Water units to find a local alternative for our grey water boxes. Upon 
investigation, we noticed the company had PVC and upon our request to comply with the Living Building Challenge, they 
removed PVC from their designs.

 

Summary of the product classes and/or specific products that presented particular challenges:

Each product included in the Bertschi project presented challenges in determining accurate ingredient 
and sourcing information. As one of the first Living Buildings, a great deal of education was needed to 
help subcontractors and manufacturers understand the requirements and reasoning behind the Living 
Building Challenge Imperatives 11 and 14. The team had to develop questionnaire templates that could 
be distributed to manufacturers to outline the Challenge requirements and also gather product 
data. Having a globally‐recognized contractor helped with these efforts as they have influence that 
could help gather this information from even the largest manufacturers. In many, many instances it 
was necessary to repeatedly and continually contact manufacturers to push to get responses to our 
information requests. While every product represented a challenge in gathering information, perhaps 
none was as difficult as mechanical and electrical items.

The large amount of these items included on 
the project was the first difficulty to overcome in trying to gather so much data. Many manufacturers 
did not have the information we were looking for on the smaller components or were not willing to 
release it. Additionally, many of the mechanical and electrical components used in the building industry 
have so many parts that it is difficult to track Red List and Sourcing information. The sheer amount of 
data to be collected on all these items presented huge challenges to the project team as we struggled to 
provide products that met the Challenge while keeping the project on time and on budget.

At the time of construction, some products like the curtain wall and Kynar coating presented the team 
with no alternatives that would meet the Red List. The design team often went through exhaustive 
efforts to research alternative products that would meet the Challenge. However, many times we were 
unable to find an acceptable equal in performance, warranty or Challenge criteria. Understanding the 
parameters and allowing time for this additional research presented many obstacles. 

Being one of the first Living Building Challenge project teams was also difficult when we were often the first to discover 
discrepancies between LBC criteria and building codes. An example of this is galvanized metals. At the 
time of construction, galvanized electrical conduit was the only allowable product approved by the 
city. The team searched for non‐metal alternates and each time they were rejected by inspection and 
code officials. Although other products like fiberglass conduit might have been just as acceptable for 
the use we were proposing, local authorities expressed their opposition. This is one of the difficulties 
that eventually led to the temporary exception for galvanization as long as this type of metal was not 
located exterior of the building to come in contact with water or earth.

There were other occasions on the project when information from the manufacturer would show no Red 
List ingredients but upon further inspection and sometimes even purchase of the products, our team 
would find out these claims were false. This led to last minute product substitutions which resulted in 
project delays.

Throughout the Bertschi Living Building Challenge project there were many challenges with materials research. It is not easy 
to find products that meet such rigorous health and transparency standards. At this time in the 
development of sustainability we all face a tough road to make real and positive change to an industry 
that for so long, took for granted the negative health impacts of their products on those who were 
unknowingly or unwilling able to search for the truth.


Notable regional products specified:

CSI Materformat Division  Specified Manufacturer + Product Names Location
Division 6 Premier Building Systems, SIPS Panels Tacoma, WA
Division 5/32
 Alliance Steel Fabrication, Fencing, handrails
McMinnville, OR/Seattle, WA
Division 7 AEP Span, Metal Roofing Tacoma, WA/ Kalama, WA
Division 6 AltruWood, FSC Siding and Trim North Vancouver Island, BC
Division 31
Glacier Northwest, Aggregates
Washington and BC
Division 32 Miles Sand and Gravel, Crushed Rock Washington State
Division 3 Tiger Mountain Innovations, Concrete Counters Seattle, WA
Division 26 Crystallite, Skylights Everett, WA
Division 22 Oldcastle Precast, Inc, Cisterns Auburn, WA


Notable manufacturers who made "Proprietary Claims" when asked about product contents:

CSI Materformat Division  Specified Manufacturer +

Product Names
Division 26 Southwire Company SIMpull XHHW‐2
Division 7 Dow Corning, 795 Building Sealant


Sources for wood:Certified by Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), Salvaged

Notable manufacturers of FSC certified wood products:

CSI Materformat Division  Specified Manufacturer +

Product Names
Division 25
AltruWood Co., FSC Cedar Siding and Trim
Division 10 Roseberg Forest Products, Dimensional Lumber
Division 6 Premier Building Systems, SIPS Panels
Division 6 Calvert (Matheus Lumber), Glulams
Division 6 SierraPine, Medex MDF Core

Name of organizations/individuals that assisted with timber harvest and lumber seasoning process:

CR Siding – 
15530 73rd Ave SE 
Snohomish, WA 98296

Ph: 360‐668‐4182  

Larry Freeman – owner/estimator

larryfreeman@crsiding.com

Diane Moody, 
FSC‐US, Northwest Region Manager

d.moody@us.fsc.org

Colin Wilson at Altruwood

Portland, OR.

(503) 972‐2682 or colin.wilson@altruwood.com

This project made great strides in the local and regional FSC market. First, because the Living Building 
Challenge is the first green building rating system to require FSC‐Certification down to the subcontractor 
level, many local subcontractors are reanalyzing obtaining a Chain of Custody for their businesses. Since 
this has not been required by other systems, this level of certification has not yet been viewed as an 
added business value by many companies. The Living Building Challenge, and specifically our project, is
changing this with our local suppliers.

Secondly, there were numerous limitations of product availability for our project in the Pacific 
Northwest. One example was our required FSC‐Certified OSB in sheets larger than 4’x8’. Our team was 
finally able to find a manufacturer to make these FSC Certified OSB panels, which had just opened their 
facility located in Canada.

Thirdly, because it was necessary to look outside of the typical supply chains to locate something FSCCertified,  
new connections were made between the design team, contractor, subcontractor and 
suppliers. New relationships were formed this way with local suppliers, including Sustainable Northwest 
Wood. Additionally, our design team was also able to directly utilize help from some of the upper level 
management at FSC who aided in tracking down local supply leads.

Finally, because of this project our architectural firm has signed on with Cascadia Green Building 
Council’s pledge to provide FSC‐Certified or better wood flooring in all of our projects. We have now 
made this change in our company’s master specifications document so that it will be included on all 
projects we do. The Bertschi School Living Building has been a great success in many ways and the FSCCertified 
wood is just one great aspect of the ways in which the Challenge is pushing the design and 
building industry. Through the inspiration and information of a built case study like the Bertschi School, 
owner’s, designers, and contractors will see that stringent, lasting and worthwhile changes can be 
made for the benefit of sustainability in the building industry. Overall, this project was a great example 
of connecting different parties from the Certification body through the installer. These relationships and 
connections will be used on future Pacific Northwest projects with the design team and the large 
contractor.

 

Brokers that assisted in sourcing salvaged materials:

Salvaged Product  + Organization Individuals Contact Information
Runnel Pebbles salvaged from old Coldwater Creek retail store
Jill Rinde | General Manager
CB Richard Ellis, Inc. | Asset Services
Greg Anderson, Insite Development
710 Second Ave, Suite 730 | Seattle, WA 98104
O 206 344 5151 | F 206 344 5252
Salvaged Wood Flooring from Olive 8 Development
David G Thyer, President R.C.Hedreen Company W 206 624‐8909 F 206 625‐1543
Salvaged Steel Railings
Alliance Steel Fabrication, Inc. 10751 A St S, Tacoma, WA (253) 538‐7935
Restroom Tile
Udo J. Reich | President
ambiente european tile design
227 NE 65th St. Seattle, WA 98115
Direct: 206 388 1025 Fax: 206 388 1043

Embodied carbon footprint (TCO2e):29 TCO2e

Name of Carbon Offset project:Climate Action Registry – type: wind

Name of Carbon Offset provider:3Degrees Group, Inc.

Carbon Offset provider website: www.3degreesinc.com

Name of Carbon Calculator:BuildingCarbonNeutral.org’s Construction Carbon Calculator
Carbon Calculator Website: buildcarbonneutral.org

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EQUITY

Summary of the influence of the Equity Imperatives and overarching intent of the Petal on the project 
and Team: 

Through the perspective of sustainability’s triple‐bottom line, we understand the need to focus on relationships 
and how our buildings help us relate to each other. In order to be truly sustainable, we must work towards 
buildings that through their stewardship of nature can provide for everyone and encourage a sense of 
community. In designing for a space that was to be used by young students, it was crucial that the design be 
comfortable and not create distraction. The classroom was designed to provide a lecture space that is more 
appropriately sized for sitting while the tall Ecohouse space was scaled for standing experiments and housing 
the large green wall. The project site is small and traditionally might have elicited a design that was lot line to 
lot line, in order to maximize the space. Contrary to that practice, care was taken to ensure that the space was 
“right‐sized” for the programmed use.

Although this building is located within the secure perimeter of a private school, Bertschi does provide free tours 
to the general public and offers student summer courses that are open to the public. The science classroom 
design strictly adhered to the principle of Rights to Nature. Shaded entirely by the historic Church Building, the 
Living Building does not take away from adjacent sites but rather is a good example of the importance of 
consideration for solar access.

The project team embraced the Equity Petal requirements of the Living Building Challenge. From the beginning 
of the project, the team itself was a tight knit group of individuals with a passion for sustainability and a 
dedication to the project’s mission. By forming the Restorative Design Collective, the team became a community 
of design, engineering, and construction professionals that were voicing their commitment to seeing the Bertschi 
Living Science Building become a reality. The collective believed that the building would serve as an example of 
what was possible, a teaching tool for the school, and a source of inspiration and education for others in their 
professions as well as the greater community.

 

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Beauty




© Bertschi School

Educational Website URL:
 bertschi.org/who‐we‐are/our‐campus

Project Tours and “Open Day” Information

 

Tour Information: (at the bottom of the webpage) bertschi.org/who‐we‐are/our‐campus

Tour Contact Name: Emily Fowler

Tour Contact phone number: 206‐442‐6860

Tour Contact email: emilyf@bertschi.org

“Open Day” Info: Bertschi Grand Opening Email Invite; Bertschi Grand Opening Invite. The ribbon cutting was also announced on the local NPR station.

Additional Beauty Petal Thoughts:
 
Beauty is often a controversial quality, especially when referring to how it might be subjectively judged for the 
Living Building Challenge. But to the Bertschi Team, we understand the power of a meaningful design or 
aesthetically pleasing natural element that can bring deep satisfaction to the mind. We realize that beauty is 
unique to everyone and the mere consideration of whether something meets this characteristic has already been 
successful in allowing us to consider the possibilities. In many ways, Beauty and Spirit became personal to the 
Bertschi design team, the Bertschi faculty and their students. We each have our own stories about the ways in 
which the Living Building Challenge framework and the building we designed, built, and learn in has touched our 
lives. For many of us, both professionally and personally, we will carry this experience with us forever.

The Bertschi School Living Science Building has an honorable and necessary purpose. It exists for primary school 
education and aspires to teach not only science, but environmental stewardship, as well. Bertschi’s campus 
embodies a spirit of place. Located at the north end of Bertschi’s urban campus, it bookends a block of existing 
buildings that Bertschi repurposed as school program spaces. Through renovation of historic homes, the overall 
campus is a celebration of culture and place by honoring the buildings that existed on its site before the school 
was there. Recent construction projects have worked to enhance the campus by adding the first LEED Gold 
certified school building in Washington followed by the first Living Building Version 2.0 building. The campus 
offers its students the opportunity to learn and play in buildings that range from early 1900’s Craftsman homes 
to a mid‐century church, to the most innovative and sustainable buildings that are now possible.

For the students of Bertschi School, the beauty of their Living Science Building is in the manifestation of their 
dreams. When the design team began our project, we started with the students. We asked them what a Living 
Building means to them. What would they dream about seeing in their classroom? How would they wish to see 
nature expressed? The students were inspiring and shifted the focus of what we as designers thought was 
possible. They asked for “a stream [that] could be running under the classroom” and “A greenhouse where 
something would be always growing.” Out of these ideas developed some of the greatest design features of the 
building that not only perform functions and met LBC Imperatives but inspire and teach the beauty of nature.

The stream became a pebble‐lined runnel in the classroom floor that weaves its way through the building 
mimicking the natural patterns of rivers. Part of the rain water collection system, the runnel and other pipes 
bring the beauty of the hydrologic cycle right inside the classroom. The greenhouse has turned into the 
Ecohouse with a wall full of tropical plants that treat our grey water. Students learn that plants are not onlybeautiful to look at, but that their beauty is also in their function. These natural features represented in their 
classroom show the interconnectedness of the natural world. Our choices of how we use water have 
consequences on nature and the students can reach out and touch these relationships from their desks. But 
these connections don’t end inside. Just beyond the windows of the classroom the students are surrounded by 
an ethnobotanical garden. The changing patterns of nature are on full display here as the students grow a 
variety of vegetables, fruits and indigenous plants. They learn about Native peoples using these same plants for 
tools, connecting them with the spirit of our ancestral culture. Nestled quietly throughout the building and its 
garden’s natural elements are artists representations of nature. From all five species of salmon cast into the 
floor along the runnel to the beetles mounted next to the green wall and even the garden sculptures, students 
are immersed in the beauty of art that pays tribute to nature.

The most beautiful aspects of the building are the lessons and perspectives it instills in its students, quantified in 
the survey they were asked to complete. Their answers prove that the building itself is creating a new normal 
for the kids who have the opportunity to learn from it and in it. From their experiences in the classroom we all 
hope they will carry forward what some students said so simply, “that all buildings should be living” and “we are 
living what we are learning.” Those thoughts are planted like seeds in their mind and inform the many beautiful 
sustainable ideas and solutions that develop as they become adults and choose their own paths into the future. 

A Living Building created for the education of our youth is a game changer. It is something that proves to their 
young minds that this type of self‐sustaining, healthy and beautiful building is indeed possible and in fact 
necessary. With the Bertschi building, we are hoping to make a shift in the way educational spaces are thought 
of traditionally. It is time to start creating spaces for our students that are more than just shelter for activity but 
a place that they can learn from and be inspired by. Their classrooms can create the impact that helps them 
choose the direction for their careers and inspire them to make a difference through their life’s passion. The 
Bertschi project team saw the potential for this and did everything we could to involve the students in the design 
and the function of their classroom.

Based on the metaphor of a flower, the Living Building Challenge itself is an embodiment of beauty. By 
designing the Bertschi Living Science Building to tell the story of the Challenge and what it requires, the team 
believes they are providing a truly beautiful and inspiring place. All of the systems and components that help 
the building function have been left exposed so students and visitors are able to understand how the building 
works and what is necessary to achieve Imperatives like net zero energy and water. Wood from responsibly 
managed local sources used as structural components are celebrated and left exposed. Processes are labeled 
and materials left natural.

 

As an important consideration for all designs, whether pursuing the Living Building Challenge or not, Biophilia 
was also featured. The design team understood that this Imperative would add to the building’s beauty and 
spirit. It is in our human nature to seek elements of the natural world for healing and wholeness. When we ask 
a group of students or adults during workshops to think about what is beautiful to them and they often recall 
something natural. Designs throughout the project incorporate organic forms and shapes from the river in the 
floor to the nautilus on the moss mat roof above. Natural light, air, complimentary contrasts, indoor/outdoor 
spaces and spirit of place are just some of the biophilic features that Bertschi’s Science Wing displays.

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PROCESS



© Bertschi School

Relevant details about project use

The building’s primary function is as a 
classroom operating with a consistent schedule. The school does provide public tours of the building 
several times a month and hosts a variety of meetings, events and special educational sessions 
throughout the year.

Project costs:$935,000

Soft costs:$0

Hard costs (land excluded):$935,000

Creative financing opportunities: 
All design fees 
for the project were provided pro‐bono. In addition, the General Contractor Skanska removed their 
profit and contingency and provided countless donations in both time and materials for construction. 
Numerous subcontractors also donated time and materials. The total construction cost was provided 
through community fundraising led by Bertschi School.

Design Process
Beyond the building’s design and function, the story of how it came to be is inspiring. The project began as an 
idea in the minds of two of the project team members, Chris Hellstern and Stacy Smedley of KMD Architects. The 
idea formed at the Living Future unConference in Portland, Oregon when Jason McLennan gave the audience a 
charge to be Change Agents and show that Living Buildings were possible and necessary. Chris and Stacy took 
this to heart and decided they could do this if they found a project that was the right scale to become a built 
research project for their firm. If they could do that, and then find a team of professionals that also wanted to 
make positive change and donate their time to create a built case study project, then they could answer Jason 
McLennan’s charge.

Chris and Stacy happened on the Bertschi school by chance when looking to tour a local 
LEED Gold school. At the end of the tour, Bertschi’s campus planner Stan Richardson, mentioned that they had 
one more science building to construct as part of their master plan, and that they wanted to explore the Living 
Building Challenge on that project. Chris and Stacy quickly reached out to build a team who shared their passion 
for sustainability. Each contact immediately said yes to signing on to the pro bono project. With the dedicated 
team in place, we approached the Bertschi School who agreed to take on the Challenge. 
The team has told this story to people across the United States and has seen it inspire others to think big and 
follow their individual passions and calls to action. And while it may seem like a complex and unique set of 
circumstances that led to this project, the idea that started it is simple. Just ask. Ask what is possible. Ask for 
help to create the change you believe in. This philosophy persisted throughout the Bertschi project from creating 
a team of professionals to donate all their time to raising monetary donations for the construction and receiving 
donated labor and materials to build the building. Through the Living Building Challenge we have found 
people’s passion for doing what is right for the environment. We have found what matters to them in providing 
something better for our future generations. People want to do what is right to leave a legacy of inspiration and 
education and sometimes it just takes an appeal to their true spirit to unleash action.

As designers, we believe the Bertschi Living Building encompasses Beauty and Spirit in its story of creation, its 
built form and in the lessons it is able to teach its students. From those who have been personally and 
professionally invested in this project for nearly four years we see the beauty embodied in the young students 
who can describe to their classmates the function of the composting toilet and the reason they collect their 
energy from the sun. We see the spirit of the Challenge and its environmental stewardship principles permeate 
the student’s family life as they implore their parents to turn off the water and lights at home when not in use 
and to compost their food scraps. The idea of this project evolved from the need to inspire and educate our 
future generations on the need for buildings that build a restorative future. We believe that the Beauty and 
Spirit lessons of the Living Building Challenge will live on in the future generations and that is the true legacy of 
the project.

Design Features

 

1. North, insulated glazing and operable windows provide daylighting and natural ventilation.

2. 2x12 wood framed, cellulose insulated walls

3. SIPS panel roof

4. Hydronic radiant floor heating

5. Ventilation system with energy recovery

6. Operable skylight provides stack effect ventilation

7. Rain leaders to cisterns, exposed for education

8. Glass-covered interior runnel transports rain water to potable cistern

9. Exterior runnel transports excess rain water for potable use to irrigation cistern and rain garden for infiltration

10. Irrigation Cistern

11. Rain Garden

12. Stormwater control valves divert water from other campus property to irrigation cistern and rain garden

 

1. Church Building rain leader to cistern, exposed for education

2. Rain leader for classroom butterfly roof

3. Glass-covered interior runnel transports rain water to potable cistern

4. Potable water cistern

5. Potable tank hand pump for water appreciation

6. Energy Recovery Ventilator (ductwork omitted for clarity)

7. Operable curtain wall window for ventilation

 

1. North, insulated curtain wall glazing provides daylighting

2. Skylights provide additional toplighting for the Green Wall

3. Greywater filter tanks remove large particulate matter before sending to Green Wall

4. Green Wall treats all greywater onsite through closed-loop evapotransporation

5. Vacuum flush toilet

6. Composting units (2) treat all blackwater on-site

7. Potable water treatment system (wall mounted) including micron filters and UV light for disinfection

8. Radiant floor hybrid hot water heater

9. Moss mat green roof

10. 2x12 wood-framed, cellulose insulated walls

Renderings courtesy of KMD Architects

All images, if not otherwise attributed, are courtesy of the Bertschi School.

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