- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 6, 2005

CHICAGO (AP) — Youngsters at Tarkington Elementary started their first day of classes yesterday at a school where flowering plants grow on the roof. It is one of the nation’s small but growing number of environmentally friendly schools — a standout because it sits in a major city better known for towers of steel and concrete.

Supporters hope Tarkington Elementary School will bring the idea of environmentally friendly urban buildings into the mainstream.

In contrast to other Chicago buildings, Tarkington has a living, green roof planted atop the gymnasium. It’s a garden of short, self-sustaining flowering plants that don’t need much water and can withstand Chicago’s weather, said project manager Julie Chamlin.

“It looks extraordinarily better than other schools,” said 12-year-old Dulce Vega, a seventh-grader excited at the thought of having science classes on the roof.

If the young science students and other children are lucky, they might see even birds nesting there.

The insulation provided by the soil and vegetation will help keep the building warm in the winter and cool in the summer. Rainwater soaking into the soil will be piped to a nearby lagoon.

The school also is designed to use 30 percent less water than expected for a building of its size and get half of its electricity from renewable resources. A reflective coating reduces the amount of heat absorption.

Tarkington is one of about 110 schools in the United States that have been certified or are seeking “green” certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Proponents say Tarkington represents a huge leap forward because it is in Chicago and not in some small town or city on the more environmentally conscious West Coast.

Tarkington was built specifically to meet the council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design guidelines.

A much smaller “green” school, Prairie Crossing Charter School, opened in January in Grayslake north of Chicago. Prairie Crossing director Linda Brazdil, said Tarkington sends a message that her school — in a wooded area miles from the nearest high-rise or subway — simply can’t.

“If you can [build such a facility] in the middle of a city, then it says it’s not just something you can do if you happen to be in the suburbs,” she said.

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