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The Nature of Things – From LEED-Certified Buildings to Fairy Shrimp

The White Building

The Nature of Things, LLC has a mission to provide a very special place for growing children, a place where they can experience nature while they learn. They have multiple programs. Nature’s Pathways is a state-licensed early childhood education and childcare facility. 2nd Nature Academy is a state-licensed private elementary school.

The Nature of Things was originally founded by Denis and Deborah Gleeson. They say their goal is “to provide an alternative educational environment that focuses on Dr. Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory. This pedagogy encompasses eight intelligence areas:  verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, bodily/kinesthetic, musical, visual/spatial, interpersonal/companion, interpersonal/self, and naturalist.”

Classroon Study

Classroon Study

The curriculum, however, is crafted to take best advantage of the geographic area in which they operate. The campus is rural, and the woods and fields around it are treated as extensions of the classroom. There are farm animals, there are the small wildlife found in nature, and there are areas where children can plant and harvest vegetables. All these things are incorporated into the body of knowledge and experience imparted to the children at the school. They teach kids about being sustainable; kindness to the earth and its many living things; and how farming is integrated into life.

They believe children are not all the same, and they seek to accommodate the different needs they have. Children are encouraged to investigate their surroundings, finding the clues to what is going on, and reason through their observations to understand underlying principles, and test their native-born understanding. All told, we could say the exciting-sounding curriculum is enough to make a good story.

There is more to this school, however. The Nature of Things built the first LEED-platinum certified non-residential building in New Hampshire. The way that happened should provide inspiration for anyone intimidated by the LEED certification process.

Denis and Deborah had questions about the environmental quality of the original site they leased for the school, and those questions could not really be answered in a way they found satisfactory. The solution they hit upon was simple. They relocated a short distance to a new facility on a very old dairy farm, abutting hundreds of acres of conservation land. There, they started building facilities to the highest possible standards.

The Science Center

The Science Center

They started out with the idea that they would be housed in a LEED-certified building, where they could be confident of the air quality, with good ventilation and lighting, which they could keep environmentally safe by using high quality maintenance and cleaning products.

Experienced engineers and architects were hired, along with a LEED consultant who could manage the paperwork for certification. Solar power, heat pumps, high quality insulation, safe and pure water systems, and sustainable, toxin-free building materials were all part of the plan. The first glitch came when Denis, whose business experience is financial, realized they were under-funded for what they wanted to accomplish.

This did not stop them. One might surmise it did not even slow them down. They decided to do the job themselves, with whatever help they could get from suppliers, institutional advisers, and volunteering staff and friends. They bought the work their engineers had done, and executed the plan.

Field Study

Field Study

They did get help, important help, from businesses. Some of their contractors had no LEED experience, but were willing to learn. Their bank had no experience with such projects, but Denis persuaded them to work along. They got important help from Paul Leveille of the Jordan Institute. Green Building and Construction Group worked on green construction aspects. The staff at the local Home Depot earned their high praise. Building inspectors had to get new experience to be able to step up to a new job and evaluate what was going on.

The PV system and much of the geothermal heating system were undertaken by KW Management of Nashua, New Hampshire. These systems provide a good insight into how the work on the school building was accomplished. Actual labor was done by Denis, Deborah, and a small army of local helpers. Staff, parents, and friends, all stepped up to the plate and gave their support. When the radiant heating coils had to be laid and concrete poured, the heavy labor was done by volunteers.

They did not start expecting LEED Platinum certification, but that is what their efforts achieved. Later buildings were built to the same standards in much the same way, though expensive LEED certification was not sought for them.

This is a wonderful place for the 60 grade school students and the somewhat greater number of younger children who attend. There is a 40- by 40-foot greenhouse. Every classroom has its own garden plot. In the spring, not far from a LEED certified school house, kids go to a vernal pond, where they watch amphibian eggs hatch and see fairy shrimp swim in the water. Magic.

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