Common Ground Breaks Ground

The following was submitted by Joel Tolman, director of impact and engagement for Common Ground High School, Urban Farm and Enviornmental Education Center.

Contributed PhotoCommon Ground reached two important milestones in the creation of its state-of-the-art, sustainable school building: the completion of fundraising efforts necessary to finish the building, and the launch of construction on the new school.

State and local elected officials, joined Common Ground students, teachers, families, staff and community members Wednesday to see the building as it begins to rise from its foundation; to learn more about the unique sustainability practices modeled in its construction; and thank those who are making its construction possible.

The new 13,000 square foot building on Common Ground’s campus allows the school to expand from 180 to 225 students, welcome more than 15,000 children and adults into programs at its environmental education center, model innovative green building practices, and give students and community members the high-quality learning environment they deserve.

“We are so grateful to the members of New Haven’s legislative delegation, and to Mayor Harp, for championing this project,” says Melissa Spear,
Common Ground’s executive director. “And we owe huge thanks to the more than 300 neighbors, businesses, and grant-makers who stepped up to help us reach our campaign goal. This building will give our powerful, diverse student body, and all the community members who join in our programs, the learning environment they deserve.”

At the end of the legislative session in June, the Connecticut General Assembly approved the final funding necessary to complete this new building. Public funding is being matched by $2.1 million in contributions community members, foundations, and local businesses.

For Mayor Toni Harp, the new building represents an important resource for the city.

“There are two aspects of this project I genuinely admire, the first is the public/private partnership to underwrite the cost of construction: if you’ll allow the expression, I applaud the ‘organic’ nature of private fundraising to match hard-earned state funding,” Harp said. “I also embrace expansion of the success Common Ground has had in general, teaching sustainable techniques and innovative green building practices as a demand for environmental stewardship continues to grow.”

State Senate President Martin M. Looney praised Common Ground for it’s work and thanked Gov. Dannel Malloy and the city’s legislative delegation for supporting the project.

“Common Ground is a superb school that provides an extraordinarily nurturing atmosphere for its students and is one of the most successful charter schools around,” Looney said. “Their educational commitment to the values of environmental stewardship can also be seen in the sustainable materials selected for the construction of the new school. I want to thank Governor Malloy and the New Haven delegation for their support of this important project.”

Designed by Gray Organschi Architecture and constructed under the management of Newfield Construction,  the building aims to put Common Ground’s environmental mission into action.

“The new building at Common Ground High School offered our design team the rare opportunity to work closely with dedicated teachers and deeply engaged students to craft a special architectural design,” Alan Organschi, partner at Gray Organschi Architecture, said. “Their challenge to us was this: make a building that is healthy for both the school community and our global environment; durable in its construction using sustainable systems
and renewable materials in a legible and innovative way; flexible enough to adapt to the school’s rich and constantly evolving curriculum; respectful of the buildings and spaces that give this wonderful institution its character.  The goals for this new addition to the working landscape of farm buildings, gardens, forests and wetlands that serve as Common Ground’s home and “classroom” was a a building that would teach about the complex and potentially convivial relationship between the built and the natural environment.”

In keeping with Common Ground’s commitment to sustainable environmental practice, the high efficiency building is constructed using a pioneering cross laminate timber system that is designed to minimize climate change impact, reduce waste and energy use, and use renewable resources. Bensonwood, a New Hampshire-based company, engineered and pre-fabricated the building’s frame and walls.

Common Ground is one of the country’s first public schools to use this innovative construction method, according to Tedd Benson (pictured above), the founder of Bensonwood.

“It’s our honor to be in a partnership to build Common Ground,” he said. “The finest buildings happen when values and mission are integrated into the every aspect of design and construction. The best buildings aren’t just honest; they are a statement of truth in themselves, and say much about what is possible because their qualities and integrity undeniably exist. At Common Ground, next generations will learn how we can and should care for our environment to make a better world. There will be mountains of words and reams of data coming out of these classrooms, but there will also be this sustainable, optimistic, secure and beautiful place with its silent and profound truth about a good and possible future.”

Some Common Ground students, like Elijah Voss (pictured), have been following construction since its very beginning – and this month had the chance to visit the Bensonwood facility where the building’s frame and walls were being constructed. “It’s amazing to see the evolution of Common Ground happening before my eyes,” Elijah Voss said.  “I’m proud to be part of that process.”

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