JEMA Architect Leads Local “Green Schools Quest”

Last fall, JEMA architect Jon McKee joined the USGBC Green Schools Quest, a friendly competition between St. Louis elementary and middle schools. McKee got involved with the annual competition through his role on the USGBC Green Schools Committee, which connects local schools with sustainability-focused projects and resources.

McKee was paired with Tillman Elementary in the Kirkwood School District, and has worked with them since September to develop an idea for the sustainable project. Over the course of the project he met with assistant principal Adam Crnko, principal Maria Stobbe, and student mom Jaime Kelley. About two dozen enthusiastic participants in grades 1-4 were also a key part of the design process.

Finding a Concept

The project was designed to tie into Tillman’s ongoing IGNITE initiative to renovate their outdoor space and turn it into an interactive learning environment. The kids already had ideas for a “sensory path,” so Jon talked to them about the five human senses and how they might design a project to connect every sense. Planters with herbs and vegetables were added to incorporate taste and smell. Sight, touch, and hearing would come from the walking path made of different materials.

McKee worked with the Tillman team to develop a modular system of hexagonal boxes of different heights. This way, the path and garden could organically grow and evolve when the pieces are relocated to their final intended home in the new outdoor space. The kids loved how the hexagons reminded them of a beehive and took inspiration from a natural form. Jon spent an afternoon in the shop making all 24 boxes out of cedar planks and nails so that no materials or binding agents would leak into the plants —particularly the vegetables that will be used in the kids’ lunches.

Building a Path

Tillman Elementary hosted a Build Day on Saturday, February 25 from 9am to noon. The kids decorated the sensory boxes with upcycled objects from the school, from their homes, and from nature. The objects were embedded in concrete so they can survive outside for years to come. The planter boxes were sowed with seeds and soon the path and garden will be in full bloom.

The awards ceremony for the Green Schools Quest will be held on April 11, 2017 and JEMA hopes to bring home the “green” ribbon! First, second, and third place winners receive a plaque commemorating the event and a modest cash prize for furthering that school’s sustainable project.