Sunday, March 17, 2013

Traveling With Tron: Geothermal Systems

A few weeks ago, James and I had the privilege of "Traveling with Tron." That's what we call traveling with two of our board members, Trey Parsons and Ron Ferrell. Ha! These two are awesome road trip partners and because of the research Trey had done, we drove out to Marion, Arkansas to see a net-zero middle school in the Marion School District. Net-zero buildings are structures with zero net energy consumption and zero carbon emissions annually, and the size of this school made that fact really impressive!

This school district had worked with a company called Hydro-Temp to design a geothermal system for the middle school, which controls the temperature and humidity in the building. Because the building was so HUGE, I expected to enter a space that was quite hot, but I was really pleasantly surprised to find a very comfortable and quiet environment. We want SixTwelve to be an example of everything we will try to encourage through our education curriculum, so we have to do all that we can to build with the health of our environment in mind. This is a huge way that we can do it, as long as we can afford it.

The upfront cost can be pretty big, but heating and cooling utility bills can be dramatically reduced, by as much as 75%! James has been working on this part of our project for almost a year and he will give a much more detailed description of what we've decided upon in a future blog post. (He already promised that he would! Yay!) But for now, I'll just say that the biggest perks a geothermal system at 612 would hold for me are reduced utility bills, temperature and humidity control, which is huge for exhibiting art in our gallery as well as for comfort, and last, but not least, its health benefits.

The assistant superintendent of schools for the Marion School District said that they have been putting these systems in as many schools as they can. They have two elementary schools that are about five miles apart and built at roughly the same time period. The district only had enough money to put a system into one of the schools the first year and then the other during the second year. The first school experienced almost an 80% drop in absenteeism the first year and then the second school experienced the same the next year. CAN YOU BELIEVE THAT? When these systems are combined with a UV Light purifying system, the air is actually cleaned. Our buildings have the ability to make us sick or to help us lead healthier lives. People with asthma and allergies don't suffer as much in buildings with these systems. Can you imagine the impact on student health and education we would see if all of our schools could trade out their heating/cooling systems for geothermal + UV Light purification systems? I'm hooked and am even thinking about doing this at my house.

For anyone who wants to see a video description of how this works, check out this video! There will definitely be more posts over this topic in the future. This one is just the tip of the iceberg!

Some might wonder why we went all the way to Marion, Arkansas to check out a company when we have Climate Masters right here in Oklahoma City. We are definitely trying to promote "local" in all that we are doing. The answer is that the people in Arkansas are the ones who have been creating and inventing a lot of the technology we're looking for.  We think Climate Master is great, but if we use Hydro-Temp's product, we'd have more control over the different areas of our building because Hydro-Temp offers more variables in the system. Also, if we want to get LEED points for whatever we use, it needs to come from within 500 miles of our location and Marion is 449 miles away. So I think we're still doing good!

On our next SixTwelve road trip, we will be visiting Austin, Texas to see Urban Patchwork Neighborhood Farms and Reclaimed Space, two entities who are leading the way in sustainable living! I'm kind of geeking out over getting to meet these people and seeing what they are doing in person. Weeeeeeee!!!!!

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Construction Series: Story 3, Steel Beams

Here's the third installment of our 612 construction series. When we started this round of renovations toward the beginning of the year, we were told that the idea James had for opening up the west side of the building might not happen exactly as we wanted. Without these beams, the wall supporting the upstairs hallway would have had to stay. It wouldn't have been the end of the world, but our interior definitely wouldn't have felt as spacious or appeared as architecturally appealing.

Our friend and framer, John Beedon, told us about a structural engineer, Syam Mannava, that he had worked with before, so we called and, sure enough, he was available that day to come over and take a look. He helped us so much. (Have I mentioned enough how grateful we are for John?)  Mr. Mannava was the one that led us to the solution of the steel beams. Here's a look at the arduous process of getting those incredibly heavy things into the building and up to the second floor. Wild! Thank you so much BC Summers, Colin Rosebrook, and all of the other people who volunteered and helped to get that steel beam upstairs. You are so appreciated.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Oklahoma Arts Council's Leadership Arts Program

One of the highlights of 2013 (so far) was being accepted into the Oklahoma Arts Council's Leadership Arts program. I am more than honored to be a part of this; I am grateful. During the four overnight retreat meetings we'll have all over the state this spring, the 2013 class will benefit from participating in panel discussions and experiencing methods of training that will be useful in our own businesses. We'll also be given useful tools in learning how to be better advocates for the arts in Oklahoma. I really want to do all that I can to help encourage the growth and quality of arts in this state, so I will take all of the free education I can get. I also want to make sure that I take every opportunity to learn how to be a better leader, so this couldn't have come at a better time.

At our first meeting, held at the beautiful Quartz Mountain, I met some incredible people. INCREDIBLE!!!  I'm so lucky to be a part of this group. The main thing that I took away from this initial experience was the fact that I had been so confident that I could see the big picture in relation to arts education. After our panel discussion over the topic, I realized that I only saw things from my perspective. I have been preaching and preaching about arts integration being the key, and that's because I was seeing things from a regular classroom teachers view. I discovered, after listening to everyone else, that I was forgetting something. What about time to develop mastery of skill? What about a class devoted to art for art's sake? What about experiences dedicated to music for music's sake? As a musician who was lucky enough to take voice and piano lessons after school, I just assumed that any serious artist or musician would be devoting time, outside of school, to that pursuit. That's not always the case.

I don't have all the answers yet and I doubt that I ever will. But I will say that my dream model for arts education would look something like this:

1. Arts integration in Math, Science, History, Language, etc. during the school day
2. Art, Music, Drama and Dance classes for electives in school
3. Private and group lessons in Art, Music, Drama and Dance after school

But here's the deal. A new friend that I made at this first session, Lisa Allswede from Funky Box Studios in Edmond, said something similar to this and I agree; we should allow students to cultivate their own interests. Not every child will want to be an artist, musician, dancer or actor when they grow up. Everyone is different. So why not help our students to explore what it is that they are interested in and base their curriculum on that?

I am in love with the idea of students telling their teachers about what they are interested in and want to learn more about, and then a team of educators integrating everything they need to learn into education based on those ideas. If you haven't checked out the Keystone Adventure School and Farm (also in Edmond), give it a look. I think what they do there is pretty impressive. SixTwelve will definitely be doing something similar. I'm excited to think about it!