Seven years ago Marshall County Schools passed a bond issue
that included closing two elementary schools, which were then consolidated into
one brand-new school — Hilltop Elementary. Construction began on an
environmentally friendly, state-of-the-art, 21st century school that now houses more than 400 students from pre-kindergarten through fifth
Gallery -Hilltop Elementary
“Hilltop Elementary represents WV’s most
sustainable school,” says Mark Swiger, a teacher at John Marshall High School in
Marshall County. He also sits on the US Green Building Council’s West Virginia
Board of Directors and is the co-founder of Sustainable Learning Systems--an organization focused on sustainable solutions, particularly learning programs and training, along with consultancy in energy and environmental projects.
“The school has been honored by the West
Virginia Department of Education, the US Department of Education, and also by
the Department of Environmental Protection. Hilltop is WV’s first LEED-Certified school.”
Developed by the U.S. Green Building
Council in 2000, LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design.
The independent organization rates newly constructed buildings based on how
well they achieve high performance in a variety of human and environmental
health areas: sustainable site development, water savings, energy efficiency,
materials selection, and indoor environmental quality.
Swiger explains that the sustainable site
development category discourages building on previously undeveloped land, seeks
to minimize a building's impact on ecosystems and waterways, and promotes
reduction of erosion and light pollution, among other things.
“You could see that it’s sitting on the
flat top of a hill, thus the name, Hilltop,” Swiger says pointing to the
building on the hill. “This used to be a football field and so there was very
little excavation that took place.”
Swiger points out the cistern behind the
building that collects rain-water run-off. He sees potential there to create
artificial wet-lands which would both clean that water and provide hand-on learning
tools for students. Swiger says the building is also equipped with
water-conserving technologies and while it’s not fitted with solar
panels or wind turbines, potential to integrate these technologies is
incorporated into the building’s design. The south-sloping roof, for example,
is designed to be retrofitted with solar panels, and the site location is
positioned on a hilltop where it catches prevailing winds.
Swiger says another key LEED qualifier is that building components
travel less than 500 miles to be a part of the structure.
“The building here was built with Ohio Valley Steele that
had been recycled and was produced here many years ago. It was sitting as scrap
and then converted to building materials.”
Swiger points to the gypsum walls which came from a local factory.
“Eighty percent of the building, at least the core, is from
Swiger explains that the “cradle to cradle” design of the
building seeks to eliminate waste by using recycled and recyclable building
“The carpets are from 80-percent recycled materials and are
100% recyclable. So that means under contract with this building, once things
in it have past its life cycle, everything in the building can be recycled.”
“The day we visited this building with teachers,” Swiger
remembers, “walking through with hard-hats, they were putting down carpet and
painting the walls, and there was no smell. There were no chemicals being
emitted from the building materials.”
Swiger says the architects intentionally minimized the
levels of off-gassed toxic chemical compounds in paints and sealants in an
effort to create healthier indoor environmental quality. Large windows let lots
of natural light into classrooms. High efficiency light bulbs flicker on
automatically when anyone enters a room. Even the barn-shape of the building plays
into the LEED-certification because it was designed to fit into the cultural
landscape of Marshall County.
“If you look around to the other parts of the hill top you
can see over here there’s a barn; you can see some houses and farms out around
the edge where there are barns; I think their partner in education is that
nursery way over there which has a barn. So when you look around, although
Hilltop doesn’t look like a real barn, the shape of it represents its natural
And the fun doesn’t stop there.
Cindy McCutcheon is the principal of Hilltop Elementary. She
came on as principal two years ago, a year after the school opened. One thing
that attracted her to the position was the progressive Parent-Teacher
Organization-led recycling program. McCutcheon says the kids are enthusiastic
“They recycle everything from paper to plastic within the
classrooms. The students are responsible for making sure it gets in the
appropriate bins and we have student helpers to make sure it gets outside to
out main recycling hub outside. The community is well-informed that we are a
recycling school, that we do have an outside area to have drop-offs for plastic
and paper. The PTO recycles each month and takes it to a local recycling plant
where they receive a check. All of the money from that goes back into
activities for the students and for the school.”
The school also takes an innovative approach to sustainable food
practices. Susan Kirchner is a first grade teacher.
“Our lunch program takes a lot of the leftover vegetables
and fruits and saves them and we have a pig farmer that comes over and takes
that to feed his animals,” Kirchner explains.
“And we’re also talking about this year, with our middle
school, which is just up the road about a thousand feet, of doing a
farm-to-table type activity in the spring. They’re going to do a greenhouse. So
we’ll hopefully do that with the farmers, too.”
Kirchner says Hilltop is also invested in serving
nutritional food to kids.
“Last year was the first year that we had free breakfast for
every student. And everything in our school is healthy foods. We follow the
healthy food list that our food director gives us and anything brought in by
parents cannot be anything with sugar or fat content.”
Kirchner says in thirty-seven years of teaching, the changes
she saw last year in her well-fed kids was remarkable.
“I never realized how many children were really hungry in
the mornings. Every child has an opportunity to eat and it is amazing how
different and how much alert they are.”
“Sustainability is a lifestyle,” says Mark Swiger. “It’s
more of a paradigm of where we live, meaning that we can’t argue with the fact
that it’s important to everyone. So a LEED-certified building takes into
Swiger believes building a new, healthier, sustainable
status-quo begins in places like Hilltop Elementary. He says Hilltop Elementary
has become a learning laboratory for teachers and students on how to incorporate
sustainable practices into their classrooms.