Advancing the Landscape of Sustainability in Schools

Best ORLAStudents may have started summer vacation this week, but schools have a lot to learn from one of the area’s newest facilities.

The Olympia Regional Learning Academy (ORLA) is a model for environmental stewardship. With the goal of eventually leading the school to net zero energy, the project team who designed the space, including experts from SCJ’s landscape architecture group, constructed a school that future educational designers can model. “Net-zero” means the 66,000-square-foot structure will draw less energy from the grid than it produces on site.

“We aimed to tread lightly on the land and ended up helping to create one of the most sustainable schools in the state,” said Jeff Glander, Principal Landscape Architect at SCJ.

“Sustainability was the project’s mantra as our team made extensive use of native plant species and designed rain gardens, bio-swales and drought-resistant lawns,” Jeff said.

Additional site features include green screen vertical planters, sports fields, playgrounds and plaza spaces.

ORLA opened in February 2015 and houses four educational programs in one building: the Olympia School District’s H-connect, I-connect and Montessori programs and an On-line Development Center.

“The academy is founded on creativity and resourcefulness,” Jeff commented. “The innovative educators who saw a need and created something to fill it set the bar high. We were determined to match that ingenuity in our quest for a sustainable landscape.”

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