Situated on a beautiful 34-acre site in the New Jersey countryside, The Willow School is near the center of Gladstone, at the corner of Highway 206 and Pottersville Road. The campus is located about half way between Princeton and Morristown, within easy commuting distance of numerous surrounding communities: Peapack and Gladstone, Far Hills, Bedminster, Bernardsville, Mendham, Chester, Long Valley, Califon, Lebanon, Oldwick, and more.

Once a vital part of fox hunting country for the Pfizers and other families historic to the area, The Willow School Campus boasts a rich history, which is reflected in the School’s buildings, gardens, and landscape.

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The Farmhouse - Administration Building

Used as the home for the Brady Family who lived in this area for decades, this original three-story Colonial home that dates back to the late 19th century is now an administration building with offices for the Admissions, Business Administration, and Operations.

The Farmhouse is where visitors are welcomed to Willow’s Energystar- certified campus.

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Phase I: The Schoolhouse LEED Gold, 2002

Phase I of the School’s Master Site Plan involved the construction of a 13,500 square foot classroom building and site infrastructure including roadways, parking lots, native landscaping, a natural wastewater treatment system, and stormwater retention areas. The interior consists of six spacious classrooms for preschool through fifth grade, which host an average of 14 students per grade. The Schoolhouse also houses the School’s Library, also used for Morning Gathering and as an interior play space. Each classroom opens directly onto the surrounding grounds to facilitate both recreation and field studies. The intentional connection to the natural world is as an integral part of Willow’s daily curriculum.

The Schoolhouse is the first USGBC LEED Certified Gold school-building in the country. With natural wood siding and barn-like roof, the building conforms to the rural character of the surrounding neighborhood. The grounds include gardens and woodlands for environmental study and exploration.

Clerestories and north-facing skylights provide maximum natural daylight to each classroom. The building’s site orientation and layout plan, along with efficient windows, lighting, and HVAC systems, all help The Schoolhouse achieve excellent energy performance.


Phase I: Water Treatment

During a storm event, the Willow campus treats water by passing it through a series of bioswales and native plantings before it reaches any detention ponds or the constructed wetlands. The Phase I site design allows for the full campus build out according to the Master Plan, so the landscape does not need to be disturbed during future development.

All of the “black” sewage water is also treated on campus in a constructed wetland. The water passes through a series of filters and is cleaned to recharge the groundwater in our watershed.

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Phase II: The Barn LEED Platinum, 2007

The Barn is the second building constructed on the Willow campus. It is a 13,500 square feet structure located behind The Farmhouse. The Barn provides space for art, music, handcrafts, three classrooms, kitchen, dining area, and a student lounge. The Barn project utilized part of a horse stable that remained on the property from the late 19th century, when Charles Pfizer used this area to train and rest his horses for foxhunting season.

The studio hosts our community events such as: performances, large meetings, professional development, some indoor sports events like fencing, and more. It boasts a beautiful restored barn interior and natural daylight.

The large amount of salvaged material, natural daylight, and solar panels on The Barn project contributed to making it the first LEED Platinum building in the State of New Jersey.


Phase III: Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center

The 20,000 square foot Center features four middle school classrooms, dining room, movement area, commercial kitchen, teaching kitchen, health and wellness spaces, Energy Gallery, support spaces, and faculty room. The building runs on 100% renewable energy powered by Solar PV panels – produce 215,000 kWh per year with the estimated building consumption at 128,000 kWh per year. Over 95% of all construction waste is recycled or reused. All rainwater is captured, treated, and utilized in the building to flush toilets and to recharge the groundwater. Using primarily recycled and salvaged materials, all of the building products meet the Living Building Challenge’s requirements for Red List and Appropriate Sourcing to promote human health, good indoor air quality, and reduce the carbon footprint of both the construction and operation of the building.

The Living Building Challenge is the most stringent third-party certified green building program available to date.  To learn more about the Living Building Challenge, read this ARTICLE from BuildingGreen.com

The Center functions as a living organism. Harvesting all of its energy from the sun and collecting only as much rainwater as it needs, the building produces minimal waste. The hybrid ventilation system improves indoor air quality. When the outside temperature is between 65 and 80 degrees, the mechanical heating and cooling systems turn off and fresh outside air is brought inside. The superior thermal envelope of the building is uniquely balanced to create daylight autonomy. The sun meets 85% of the building’s lighting needs during the school’s operational hours. These features provide for an environment like no other on a school campus to learn science, math, ecology, and health by making the sustainable elements both visible and functional. Students actively participate in the monitoring of energy usage, waste collection and recycling, and systems monitoring with guidance from the Science teachers and Facilities staff.

Click here to read the press kit.

The Athletic Field

Built in 2006, The Athletic Turf Field hosts daily wellness activities as well as afterschool sports such as Track and Field and Soccer. The synthetic turf field allows for an extended usable season and does not require energy and fossil fuel intensive lawn mowing or maintenance activities. Additionally, the synthetic material does not require irrigation, reducing our demand on the town water supply and does not require the use of lawn fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides, or other chemical lawn treatment products. Because the field mat is perforated and sits on top of an 18” gravel bed, it recharges the local groundwater better than a conventional grass field.

 


Regenerative Whole Systems Thinking Our Environmental Ethic

Background

In 2001 when Mark and Gretchen Biedron set out to start a school, they approached the endeavor with three core objectives. They wanted to start a school that emphasized mastery of the English language, a school that combined academic excellence with the joy and wonder of learning, and a school that was rooted in a strong virtues program, grounded in the ancient Aristotelian cardinal virtues.

As we explored Aristotle’s writings, we soon recognized the inextricable link between human virtue and ecology. From the virtues program, which was designed to mentor ethical relationships between humans, grew the commitment to mentoring that same ethical relationship between humans and our natural world and for developing a sense of personal stewardship and love for the earth.

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We began to shift our thinking from seeing the world as a machine composed of parts, to seeing the word as a self-organized continuously evolving living being composed of other self organized living beings, nested in relationship with each other.

This new way of thinking invited us to move from our view of standing apart from and using nature, to being a part of nature; participating and co-evolving with our natural systems; and understanding ourselves as integral with nature.


Rather than separating human activity from other living organisms, we began to understand that we are all part of a complex matrix of living systems; living systems, which are inherently self-organizing, self-maintaining and self-directing. We recognized that knowledge of these living systems leads to more appropriate action and more responsible decision-making.

From this understanding, and drawing from the work of Aldo Leopold among others, we realized that we could not mentor ethical human relationships to our students without mentoring an ethical relationship to our natural world. Building and operating a green campus became a means of living out one of The Willow School’s core pillars – education in ethical living – both the ethical relationship between humans and the ethical relationship with our natural world.

A vital component of life at The Willow School is teaching children that human life is an integral part of the larger system of nature, not separate from it. Our purpose is to educate children so that they come to have a strong sense of self-confidence and an understanding of their relationship with the world around them. David Orr, an expert in environmental education, says “No student should graduate without knowing how the earth works as a living physical system, and why such knowledge is important for their lives and career.”

We believe this can only happen in an environment which fosters a connection to place and in which children experience the joy and wonder of the natural world. In this way children develop an ethical approach to all relationships.

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In 2003, the school built its first classroom building. The Schoolhouse building earned the US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED Gold Certification, making it the first independent school building and the second school building of any type, public or private, in the country to earn this award.


 

In 2007, the school’s second building, The Barn, earned USGBC LEED Platinum Certification, making this structure the first building in New Jersey and only the third school building in the country to achieve the USGBC’s highest level of certification.

Willow School Art Barn autumn 2008

 

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In December 2014, our third building, The Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center (HWNC) opened its doors. The HWNC was built to meet the Living Building Challenge and LEED 2009 Platinum Standards.


 

LEED certified buildings have many advantages: energy savings, water conservation, improved indoor air quality, and conserving materials and resources. According to several studies, it has been shown that children learn better in a healthy environment that has significant natural daylight and natural outdoor air ventilation. However, one of the most profound advantages is that the building has the opportunity to become a ‘teacher’ to the students, with its own curriculum. As we bring alive the building systems and materials to the children, they in turn start to understand the consequences of each of those systems and materials. The school uses the process of design, construction, and operation of the created campus environment as an ongoing source for developing the capacity for ecological thinking in students, faculty, and the community. Our buildings, landscape, and curriculum, through their programmatic advancements, help educate a new generation of ecologically literate citizens who understand how to live in alignment with our planet’s ecological living systems, which support us and give us life. We are eco literate when we understand the basic principles of organization that provide ecosystems their inherent capacity to nature and sustain life.

This understanding of interconnectedness is essential if we are to create regenerative systems that will empower a more abundant future.

Regeneration means co-evolving with nature in a way that gives greater life and resilience to the whole of people and nature. So both human systems and natural systems can grow and evolve into richer forms. So that people and their natural systems evolve together in a way that serves the overall evolution of each partner as well as the evolution of the larger whole that includes both.

The regenerative model of building differs from conventional practice, but once understood, it is easier to leverage the proposed human activities on the site in ways where they become catalysts for rehabilitating damaged, natural systems. Once functioning in a healthy manner, these systems, including the people engaged in them, begin to support the health of the place with much reduced input of time, money, and damaging “maintenance” activities.

 A vital component of the larger lesson taught at The Willow School is teaching children that human life is an integral part of the larger system of nature, not separate and distinct from it. Our purpose, using this idea as a platform, is to educate children so they come to have a strong sense of self-confidence and an understanding of their relationship with the world around them; understand how the planet works and why it is important to understand how it works. We believe this can only happen in an environment which fosters a connection to place and in which children experience the joy and sense of wonder in the natural world. In this way, children develop an ethical approach to all relationships.

Bill Reed discusses three essential aspects that serve as a basis for creating a regenerative or healing relationship with place:

1. Whole Systems thinking: “We need to first experience the whole system we are working within and understand the potential it has to evolve to a greater health, resilience, and diverse relationship”

2. Story of Place: Relationship is as important as place. We can’t save land through our separation from it but only through our integration and sense of belonging to it. Our intention is to heal and protect the land with people rather than assuming we can protect land from people through laws. Laws exist for times when relationships fail. The Story of Our Place becomes a powerful means of communicating complex relationships and engages people in an understanding of how the pieces and subsystems in a place work together.

3. Collaborative Dialogue and Discovery: Implement a continual dialogue process as part of the design and operation process to align the aspirations of the stakeholders with the nature of the place. The process of regenerative design is a process of continually enriching dialogue between the designers, the community, and the system the design is a part of. We must make a commitment to being cognizant of issues of race, power, and privilege.

The impact of a sustainable campus environment on children is that they do not merely learn about sustainability, they integrate it into their life habits. In this way, we can challenge all of our students to think about and analyze the broad “interconnected” environmental implications of their individual and collective behaviors, effectively preparing them to be responsible global citizens for the 21st century.

Design:

The Willow School incorporates a whole building and integrated design approach including building commissioning. The design team evaluates all building elements, materials, and systems as an integral part of the entire building rather than looking at each item solely on the basis of their own individual merit and cost. All engineering assumptions are questioned and confirmed before the design of the building systems.

 

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The US Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED Building Rating System and The Living Building Challenge are used as a frameworks to set goals for environmental performance for the school and the design team. LEED categorizes performance by: healthy plant/animal habitat, water quality and conservation, energy, material resources efficiencies, and indoor environmental air quality. The Living Building Challenge, created by the International Living Future Institute, embraces regenerative design by specifying buildings that can create healthier ecosystems when they are built.

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In addition to using the LEED and Living Building Challenge framework, the team evaluated the health and history of the site. The school used the work of Lewis Mumford, Simone Weil, and John Dewey as a model and performed a “regional survey of our place,” which involved a detailed study of the local history and environment by specialists, faculty, members of the community, and students.


 

The recurring themes from this survey were a basis of design for the campus master plan and used as ongoing frameworks for curriculum. It was determined that many of the site design features and some of the building systems could be integrated into an expression of place. This is the essential context for all human activity and an opportunity for students, faculty and community to become engaged in “the story” of the school’s environment.

Site:

The landscape design specifically avoids the impacts from conventional development that typically increase demands on natural systems, diminish water quality, increase storm water runoff, increase amounts of wastewater, and diminish native habitats for plants and wildlife. The landscape site plan for the school addresses the concerns for the negative developmental impacts in a way that actually increases the site’s environmental sustainability and overall health by using a native plant and tree pallet that encourages wildlife forage, increases diversity of habitat, does not require irrigation or fertilizer and makes the entire site an outdoor classroom.

 

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A primary focus of the landscape plan is to dramatically reduce storm water runoff from moving off the site and encourage local ground water recharge. This is accomplished by: planting deep-rooted native grasses and perennials in lieu of traditional turf grass; minimizing the width of paved surfaces and hardscape to reduce impervious surfaces; reducing the use of roadway curbing, concrete catch basins and underground piping by employing vegetated bio-swales and rain gardens planted with filtering plant species; and capturing roof rainwater runoff in underground storage tanks and using it to flush toilets in the building.

Additional site features include reducing site lighting to minimize energy use and eliminate night sky pollution, protecting the root structure of mature trees during construction, reducing the “heat island effect” by planting shade trees to shade south facing surfaces near the building, and maintaining an on-site composting program for all wood chips and vegetated waste produced from clearing and maintenance activities.

Energy:

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The building’s site orientation and layout plan along with super insulated walls and ceilings, high performance triple pane windows, high efficiency hybrid heating and cooling systems, and innovative day lighting strategies, all provide maximum energy performance. In the first two buildings, the school used radiant in floor heating and a hybrid economizer heating/cooling system, which shuts down all heating and cooling when the outside temperature is between 65 degrees and 80 degrees, significantly reduces energy loads.


 

The buildings use high efficiency motors, pumps and heating/cooling systems along with variable air volume air conditioning, thus reducing air supply when it is unneeded. Ceiling fans are provided to most rooms to reduce air conditioning demand and a total heat recovery system is utilized to capture heat from exhaust air that would otherwise have been wasted.

South east side of barn

 

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The LEED Gold Classroom Building and LEED Platinum Barn consume 60%- 70% less energy than an identical building constructed to the standard building code. On-site photovoltaic electricity generation provides 37% of the buildings energy requirements.

The Health, Wellness & Nutrition Center will produce more electricity than the entire building will consume on a net basis- approximately 218,000 kilowatt hours each year while the building is modeled to require only 128,000 kilowatt hours. The excess power will reduce the demand of our other buildings on campus.


Water:

Water conservation is another essential sustainable design component. This includes harvesting rainwater that falls on the recycled stainless steel roof and using it to flush toilets in the building and support our gardens; thus reducing storm water run off and preserving potable water for human drinking needs.

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The building also utilizes a constructed wetland, an innovative wastewater management system, where plants are grown hydroponically in “black” septic water. The microorganisms that attach themselves to the roots of the wetland plants use the pollutants in our wastewater as nourishment.

The result is septic water treated and cleaned to recreational quality standards in the plant bed before it is returned to the ground.


 

During a storm event, the Willow campus treats water by passing it through a series of bioswales and native plantings before it reaches any detention ponds or the constructed wetlands.

Both of these processes promote local ground water recharge, reduce the burden on the municipal sewage system, and reduce energy usage.

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Low flow toilets, automatic faucet sensors, faucet and showerhead flow restrictors, along with waterless urinals also help reduce the use of potable water. Finally, the campus’s drought tolerant native grass and perennial landscape requires no landscape irrigation. The building uses 60% less potable water than a conventional building constructed to code.

Materials:

The buildings utilize a high percentage of salvaged, recycled and rapidly renewable materials. These include bamboo, cork and linoleum flooring, cotton and cellulose insulation instead of fiberglass, wheat board, salvaged wood beams from old factories, and limestone for the exterior of the building, salvaged from old barn foundations. In addition, all structural steel, steel studs, floor tile, sheetrock, concrete, and countertops have high recycled content. Where possible, school furniture and interior trim are made from wood harvested from the site. All dimensional lumber and plywood are Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, sustainably grown.

 

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Space is provided for full scale occupant waste recycling with the goal being to generate no waste that is not recyclable, compostable, or used for some other purpose on site. During construction of new buildings, a minimum of 85% of the construction waste is recycled. Whenever possible, local materials are specified to reduce transportation energy impact and reinforce the local resources from which the building materials and culture are drawn.

 

Indoor Environmental Air Quality:

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The school only uses products that are certified to be nontoxic and do not contain persistent organic pollutants, persistent bioaccumulative toxins, neurotoxins, mutagens, or endocrine disruptors. Products containing hazardous chemicals can pose significant health risks to students, faculty, and the public, as well as threaten the health of the environment. Environmentally and Socially Responsible Products have the potential to reduce risks to human health and the environment, contribute to better indoor air quality and reduce incidents of allergic reactions, asthma, eye damage, major organ damage, and cancer connected with the hazardous chemicals used in many products.


The integrated, cross disciplinary curriculum allows students to learn material in great depth as well as to see the connections that naturally exist among subject areas, making learning more meaningful and lasting. Lessons include active engagement in authentic exploration because children learn by doing and will experience learning as exciting and fun. Individual learning styles are supported as each child is appropriately challenged. The visual and performing arts are woven into the curriculum and daily life of the school, creating opportunities for different modes of self-expression and interpretation.

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The Willow School uses the principles of sustainable and regenerative design that are integrated throughout the buildings and site as a framework to deliver the core curriculum. By exposing the building systems and materials to the occupants and having the students participate in the operation of these systems, children begin to understand the consequences of their choices. Students interact directly with the facilities they use.

We collect real time data such as energy use, water usage, photovoltaic production, humidity levels, temperature change all from a central computer and incorporate them into daily lessons integrated through all subjects. Children become motivated lifelong learners by experiencing the joy of discovery and the ownership of results though learning that is organic, wondrous, and creative.

The place based regional survey, “The Story of Our Place”, which was performed during the design phase of each building, is also used as a framework to deliver the core curriculum. This model of place-based education immerses students in local heritage, culture, landscape opportunities and experiences as a foundation for the study of language arts, mathematics, social studies, science and other subjects. Teachers use the schoolyard and larger community as an extension of their classroom. This endeavor fosters the student’s connection to their place and creates partnerships between schools and communities.