The Journal of the American Institute of Architects: Advancing Environmental Learning and Leadership

The 180 students of Common Ground High School do more than study urban farming and sustainability. They live it each day, in a national model of what is possible in green school construction.

Photo by David Sundberg

“Find me a high school student anywhere in the country that knows where their school’s sheet rock was processed.”

It’s a provocative challenge at the heart of a new $7.5 million, 14,000 square foot addition to an environmental charter high school in New Haven, Conn.

It’s called Common Ground High School, and it offers students an innovative curriculum of urban agriculture combined with sustainable land-management practices. Last April it honored that earth-first ethic by opening the doors to the nation’s first building using cross-laminated timber (CLT) as a “stressed skin” assembly. The facility is targeted for LEED Gold certification.

School as Metaphor

The person responsible for the design (and sheet rock challenge) is designer and principal Alan Organschi at the New Haven, Conn.-based Gray Organschi Architecture, whose portfolio represents an eclectic mix of commercial, educational, and residential projects across the northeastern U.S.

Organschi reports:

I suggested using mass timber as the construction material. I said we would source the wood. We know exactly what Canadian forest this wood is coming from. The school will be a great pedagogical lesson for the students. School leadership were committed from the beginning.

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