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Spring Harbor Middle School Greenhouse
Madison, Wisconsin

Healthy Education in the Round

Spring Harbor Middle School is a 'magnet' school for environmental education. Visionary teacher Dave Ropa conceived of a teaching greenhouse to be built alongside the student gardens, to extend the learning throughout Wisconsin's harsh winters.

kids stuffing in the round
[Photo: Dr Susan Thering]

Dave also wanted a project that offered teaching-by-building. The collaborative nature of light straw-clay constuction offered a safe and engaging learning opportunity.

on-site workshopconfab
We planned multiple workshops for a contingent of Wisconsin Green Building Alliance volunteers, and then for the whole school to get muddy. The always-dodgy Wisconsin Spring weather blessed us, and after 4 sessions of straw-clay stomping around Earth Day 2014, we can report that the kids got more accomplished than the adults, every time.

Christi directs[Photo: Dr Susan Thering]

Dave directs[Photo: Dr Susan Thering]

Local designer Andrew Bramin-Wanek worked with Dave on a concept reminiscent of local hero Frank Lloyd Wright's Solar Hemicycle (Wright's original was built not far away). Then Design Coalition turned it into a full-on working design to be built of light straw-clay. We're utilizing our advanced framing method with 14" (36 cm) thick light straw-clay on top of a Durisol stemwall, wrapped in a curve to adapt to the radial design, and incorporating five re-used barn-timber frames and recycled windows for the solar side. A metal roof will collect rainwater.

Dave Ropa and his students
[Photo: Dr Susan Thering]


Earth Day 2015 saw more progress, as volunteers from the Wisconsin Green Building Alliance and Stevens Construction pitched in, along with hundreds more middle schoolers. Below, right: Kyle Holzauer instructs adult volunteers in the art of Japanese plastering.