IM this article to a friend!

August 7, 2004

Building at Baxter sees the light

From: Press Herald, ME - Aug 7, 2004

Building at Baxter sees the light

By TESS NACELEWICZ, Portland Press Herald Writer

FALMOUTH — Larry Taub, superintendent of Governor Baxter School for the Deaf, has his office in an old building with a lot of windows, but often can't enjoy sunny days. Taub frequently must pull the shades because glare from the sun makes it hard to see someone conversing in American Sign Language.

Students and staff at the state school for deaf and hard-of-hearing children won't have to contend with such problems in the future. The new $2.3 million academic building they will occupy when school opens in a month is a state-of-the-art, deaf-friendly school that includes such features as windows designed to eliminate glare.

The building also stands out as the first state building expected to win certification from the U.S. Green Building Council because of the environmentally friendly way it is designed, built and run. And some of its green features dovetail nicely with its deaf-friendly ones.

The lighting is one example. Baxter is located on beautiful Mackworth Island, surrounded by the sparkling waters of Casco Bay. The new, 10,000-square-foot, brick and recycled steel building, whose lead architect was Nancy Barba of the Portland architectural firm of Barba + Wheelock, Architecture, Preservation + Design, takes advantage of all that natural light.

Lots of windows and skylight-type structures called roof monitors bring in the sunshine. But glare won't be a problem for the approximately 30 kindergarten-through-eighth grade students who will occupy the school come Sept. 7.

That's because there are reflective light shelves - essentially wooden panels with mirrors on them - located beneath the windows to capture the light and redirect it into the room. Taub said a room with proper lighting not only makes it easier for students and teachers to communicate in ASL, but "reduces the fatigue factor and eye strain."

All the daylight in the school also helps make it "green," according to Danuta Drozdowicz of Fore Solutions, a building consulting service in Portland that worked on the school project.

She said the natural lighting will dramatically cut back on the school's electricity costs. In fact, the automatic lights in the building will only turn on when special light sensors indoors and out indicate the natural light is insufficient. "Electricity is our most expensive fuel," Drozdowicz said.

The building is 40 percent more energy efficient than national standards specify, she said.

Another deaf-friendly aspect of the school are the acoustics, which are designed to minimize extraneous noise that can distract hard-of-hearing students who wear hearing aids or who have cochlear implants. Drozdowicz said one way that's accomplished is by insulation made up of old cotton denim installed between the walls of the school's classrooms. She said it is a "superior acoustic buffer" and more environmentally friendly than standard insulation materials.

Just last fall, Gov. John Baldacci signed an executive order saying that any new or expanded state building must incorporate as many of the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design standards as possible if they can be done in a cost-effective way.

Elaine Clark, director of the state Bureau of General Services, said the structure is the first non-university building the state has designed to meet the standards.

It is also the first state building expected to win formal certification from the Green Building Council, she said. Drozdowicz said certification could come in a couple of months, after a review of the building is complete.

Clark said the new school building, the first on campus in nearly 50 years, is expected to serve as a green model for other state buildings. "It is a very important building for the state," she said.

Other green features of the building include the way it was constructed to re-use debris from Baxter's old middle school - torn down to make way for the new school - as a base for a new parking lot. The new school also includes many other recycled materials and uses paint, adhesives, carpet and wood products that give off little or no harmful gases.

"We're very proud of the building," Taub said. "We'll take learning to a new level here."

Copyright © 2004 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.