Building for the future

by Carolyn Chase


Construction has been completed for phase one of the San Diego Jewish Academy, a 22-acre "green" school campus located on a 40-acre site in Carmel Valley at 11860 Carmel Creek Road, San Diego, Calif. 92130. A public grand opening, attended by approximately 1,200 guests, was held January 21. This is an interesting model to study and shows how projects can integrate the latest in emerging sustainable technologies along with the communities' desire to build less intrusively into the natural environment and to have projects minimize their ongoing daily impacts.

    San Diego Jewish Academy, a non-profit organization, is the owner and developer of the school. The recipient of the Orange County Chapter of American Institute Architects award for its unique, environmentally-sensitive design, the San Diego Jewish Academy will accommodate 1,000 to 1,100 students in grades K-12 at full buildout. The school opened in fall 2000 to students K-10 and, by 2002, will continue through the 12th grade. Current enrollment is approximately 500.

    The Academy is being constructed in two phases, the first of which encompasses classrooms serving grades K-12; a central plaza; an administration building with a large library, offices, temple, and kosher kitchen; tennis courts; an outdoor roller hockey rink; and soccer field. The second phase will include a gymnasium and performing arts center.

    The design goal of the Academy was to create a self-contained, ecologically-friendly campus in which students can "journey through life" while learning about their natural environment. Emphasis was placed on building a low-visual impact facility that would blend with the rugged hillside, and preserve native habitat.

    The new school campus was built to serve as a protective wall around sensitive slopes and wetlands. Many of the classrooms have back yards with terraced planting areas, where students will be given the opportunity to grow and tend their own organic gardens. An outdoor patio area with built-in kiln lends itself to pottery-making classes. A solar-car prototype was donated by San Diego State University Engineering Department for students to study environmentally superior technologies.

    With one of the primary goals of the Academy being to maintain a debris-free campus, all refuse generated by the school is being recycled on site. Eventually to be located underneath the planned gymnasium adjacent to the school's kitchen, a sophisticated Somat pulping system feeds a vermi-compost system that initially was stocked with 500,000 (or 250 pounds of) worms. The system has the potential to manufacture up to 100 pounds per day of fertilizer from rich, odorless worm castings. The goal of the recycling program, according to and Doug Reiss, Director of Operations, is to achieve "zero waste".

    An important goal of the construction team for the Academy was to ensure comprehensive erosion and storm water pollution prevention methods on the construction site. Team members worked closely with the City of San Diego's Field Division Department throughout construction to resolve drain blockages and other issues related to stormwater pollution. Extensive use of bonded matrix and hydro-seeding is alleviating soil erosion of slope areas.

    To support the school's objective of providing an integrated learning environment, approximately 20 acres of the school's site have been preserved in their natural state, and education of the native habitat in this area has been incorporated into the school's curriculum. Landscaping, for the most part, includes all drought-tolerant, non-invasive and native plant species, including twice the number of Torrey Pines originally growing on the site. Landscaping on the school campus is being maintained by a low water-use drip irrigation system.

    The San Diego Jewish Academy boasts the most sophisticated fiber optic backbone of any school in the state, with 120 miles of conduit for classrooms using 700 computers. State-of-the-art technology includes an advanced computer desktop system, closed-circuit television security system, and state-of-the-art telephone system. Teachers and staff use a keyless access system.

    "In designing and building this school, we have been conscious of trying to provide a space that enhances learning at every opportunity," stated Reiss. '"Whether it's the paper trash that becomes a source of income for student government through our recycling system, engineering labs where students can design their solar-powered cars, art rooms that feature computer-aided design, science labs that feature university-level equipment, or classroom designs that allow teachers to work in real teams, everything and every space is about learning."

    Following eight months of review and whole-hearted approval by the Carmel Valley Community Planning Board, which praised the project for its thoughtful design, the San Diego Jewish Academy received unanimous approval by San Diego City Council in November 1999. Phase one construction of the project began immediately, and was successfully completed within a condensed 13-month timeline.

    Gafcon, a San Diego construction consulting firm, served as construction manager of the $28 million construction project, with Yehudi "Gaf" Gaffen as principal-in-charge, company vice president Ted Bumgardner as project director, and Joshua Hanna serving as the onsite project manager. LPA of Orange County served as the project architect, and DPR Construction was the general contractor.

    This project demonstrates how vision and principle can be married for a superior outcome for the project, the community and the environment.