NEW YORK — After an eight-year struggle and millions of dollars in fundraising efforts, the students of the low-income Bronx neighborhood Highbridge will have its first middle school come fall. Young students, some of whom formerly took three buses in the early morning hours to go to school, will now have an education accessible to them in the comfort of their own neighborhood at Highbridge Green School.
Designed by New York-based Fletcher Thompson, the four-story $34 million IS 285, also known as Highbridge Green School, will not only have modern, innovative facilities but is also positioned to be the greenest public school in the Bronx following New York City Green Schools rating system.
“I think really we’re trying to expand what being green means,” said Principal Kyle Brillante. “It’s about sustainability, but it’s also about showing enthusiasm for belonging to a community.”
Brillante said curriculum will incorporate the green features of the building, which include rooftop gardens, a greenhouse, solar panels, wind turbines and a rainwater collection system, but will also help build character among students by recognizing the environmental system.
“Seeing yourself as part of a system makes you more thoughtful and receptive,” Brillante said. “You start to see the interconnectedness, which is an important lesson to middle school students.”
The interior design of the school reflects the vision of the school’s curriculum and its emphasis on environmental sustainability, Brillante said. The greenhouse and garden will have student-produced vegetables that will be served in the school café’s full-service kitchen.
The gardens and greenhouse will also be connected to a science lab where students can receive instruction and hold discussions about their environmental efforts.
“My ideal vision in working with students and teachers is giving students a say in what they grow,” Brillante said. “My vision is that the garden will look different year-to-year and dependent upon the grade.”
The school chose shades of blues, oranges and greens to provide both visual stimulation but also possessed calming organic notes.
“To me, the colors of the school really spoke symbolically of what we wanted the kids to do,” Brillante said. “We wanted to stay with colors that were really natural and earthy.”
Whenever possible, Brillante said, school administrators opted for sustainable furniture options and tried to stay away from plastics as much as possible.
Interior energy strategies include daylighting and a high efficiency HVAC system.
Bringing the Project to Life
The United Parents of Highbridge (UPHB), the leaders in the tour de force to construct a Highbridge middle school, began their endeavor in October of 2006.
“The first thing we needed to do was get the city to acknowledge that we actually needed a school because our neighborhood is very isolated on a hill,” said Chauncy Young, lead organizer for UPHB. “That was a struggle that took quite some time.”
The neighborhood, with nearly 40,000 residents, currently has five elementary schools but is without a middle school or high school. When plans were finally approved, Young said UPHB wanted to make certain environmental education and efficiency was a key component in the middle school.
“We felt that environmental studies was a very large and growing field,” he said. “And most kids in the Bronx don’t really have access to the environment.”
UPHB raised approximately $2 million in order to provide students with the ideal green features, Young said. Construction by the Ianelli Construction Company Inc. of Brooklyn began in August 2010, where they utilized regional and sustainable building materials. The school will be completed in September and open its doors to its first sixth-grade class of 130 students. Tours of the new school will begin in July.
Each school year another grade level will be added to Highbridge Green, which will accommodate students grades 6-8. According to Brillante, Highbridge Green will be an answer to a need in accessible education based in environmental sustainability and consciousness.
“There is a crucial need for this kind of building and this kind of curriculum,” Brillante said. “The Bronx, in a lot of ways, is where the green revolution is happening.”
Brillante is featured in our podcast discussing how the new middle school is a symbol of the ways the Highbridge neighborhood is creating a brighter future for local children.