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Bronx Moves to Head of the Sustainable Class
In fight for environmental justice, new middle school sprouts green roof with goal of LEED Platinum
A rendering of the new school, designed by Fletcher Thompson.
Courtesy NYC DOE

Surrounded by highways, larded with public housing, suffering from some of the worst asthma and poverty rates in the country, the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx is no stranger to struggle. Groups like Sustainable South Bronx and the Highbridge Community Center have been fighting for years now to bring not only economic but also environmental equality to the neighborhood. Now, some of the area’s youngest residents will be able to breath a little cleaner and live a little greener with the construction of a new LEED Platinum middle school, possibly the first in the state, designed by Fletcher Thompson Architects.

Like all schools built by the city since the passage of Local Law 86 in 2005, this 400-seater was required to meet LEED certification standards, though rare is the school that goes through the process of going further since it can be expensive and time consuming. Parents and local elected officials wanted more given the neighborhood’s past neglect, and winning additional funding from the City Council to pay for a new green roof (an ever-growing trend on the city's schools) that doubles as a science lab along with other green features put achieving their platinum-equivalent within reach.

“This will be the greenest school around,” councilwoman Maria Del Carmen Arroyo said on June 29, the day the additions to the school were approved by the council. “This is a game-changer for the South Bronx, for its students, and for the environment.”

The addition of the green roof will be the most visible upgrade. The school is located on a difficult, sloping site of the Highbridge Gardens public housing complex, and it will use an innovative mix of landscaping and structure to keep the land from eroding while also using 40 percent less water. Other features include low-emission materials and responsible waste management, high-efficiency mechanicals, and 75 percent daylighting.

Ed Rothe, director of Fletcher Thompson’s New York office, said it not only meets but even exceeds the School Construction Authority’s green standards and will continue to improve with the latest additions. “This is an important school for us and an important school for the community,” Rothe said.

"Now that this school is on the way, we need to take the next step and ensure that it is constructed in the most environmentally friendly way possible and that the learning inside focuses on environmental issues," Deputy Bronx Borough President Aurelia Greene told The Daily News. Chauncy Young, director of United Parents of Highbridge, is just as optimistic, noting that the neighborhood’s limited green space makes an actively-used green roof all the more essential.

Matt Chaban