‘Living Lightly Lab’ Teaches Environmental Sustainability

Posted on November 5, 2009 by spreston

Glen Bernard’s “Living Lightly Lab” was completed on June 30, 2009, just in time for the arrival of the campers.  Glen Bernard Camp for girls, founded in 1922 by Mary S. Edgar, is located near Sundridge, Ontario. Owner/Director, Jocelyn Palm, began construction on this latest project on December 1, 2008, after considerable research into alternate energy technology.  The 12 metre square building, which is set into the base of a rock hill, is a completely sustainable classroom.  Joc’s aim is to educate campers in the summer months, and school groups for the rest of the year, about renewable energy and environmental sustainability.  Camp is the perfect place to teach children to be good stewards of our planet and how to act responsibly for the sake of future generations.  The unique structure is equipped to teach about heating, alternate lighting, alternate energy and other aspects of green living.  Joc, a former secondary teacher with degrees in science and education, says: “It is a three-step process; first is knowledge (getting the information/facts).  Then you must care and then you must act to make change.”

Because the design concepts are so new, Joc challenged the architects, engineers and contractors about how to do the job, and then, she quips, she had the privilege of paying them!  The fully accessible “green roof” features two large gardens.  The access ramp and stairs to the roof are fitted with grates to clean campers’ shoes and prevent deer and moose from wandering into the gardens.  On one side, the “extensive garden” is planted with sedum, a combination of several basic, non-vascular plants that do not require watering except in a serious drought (no problem in Ontario in summer 2009!).  This ground cover, which will not exceed a height 10cm, provides insulation for the building and many other bonuses.  On the opposite side is the “intensive garden” for flowers and vegetables.  Seventeen bags of manufactured, organic soil cover an area 9.85m long, and an average of 2.5m wide.  The garden currently produces tomatoes, carrots, radish, beans, peas and basil, and marigolds and petunias for diversity – and because they look pretty!  Next year, Joc hopes to replace the flowers with ones that are not only pretty but also edible. The trusses that support the roof are very strong to bear the weight of groups of people and equipment for some of the activities offered, as well as the two roof top gardens and the retained water they hold within them.

Each garden has its own drainage system which collects any excess rain water for measurement.  The campers can compare the water retention of the two types of gardens to determine the efficiency of each.  The rain that falls on the rest of the roof drains into pipes which are connected to rain barrels at the base of the building.  A hand pump on the roof is used to recycle this water for further watering of the gardens, if necessary.

In the centre of each garden is a ciralight, basically a jazzy skylight whose reflecting, aluminum panels provide enough light to illuminate the classroom below on even the dullest day.  Each ciralight is equipped with a small solar powered motor that the panels to follow the sun, maximizing the amount of light reflected into the room below.

Two large solar panels are attached on the south side of the building near the roof.  A weather centre, positioned between the solar panels, measures air pressure, humidity, temperature, wind direction and speed, rainfall and the UV index. Working with this equipment and recording the results create the opportunity for discussions on global warming, weather trends and the threat of skin cancer.  The camp plans to keep daily weather logs to compare any evidence of climate change.  A third manually-moveable solar panel is installed behind the building.  The campers will direct this panel to follow the sun and realize the optimum energy collection.

Sufficient solar energy is collected to heat and light the building and power any lab or audio visual equipment used.  Excess power is stored in batteries to power the building after sunset and some feeds into the camp’s grid to be used elsewhere on the property.  Joc estimates a savings of 5% on the hydro bill.

The interior of the building is one large spacious room.  The flooring is made from recycled tires, a product manufactured in Salmon Arm, British Columbia.  It is comfortable to walk upon and easily maintained.  Though the double-glazed windows are small, a design feature to reduce heat loss in winter and help keep the room cool in summer, they are positioned high for maximum light.

Sahar Ghafouri-Bakhsh, a fourth year student at the University of Toronto in Environmental Science, and Aliya Hollingsworth, an English and Environmental Studies student at Queen’s University, teach Earth Education and the science of sustainability to the campers in one and one-half hour scheduled classes.  School groups have the advantage of experiencing the required environmental curriculum, not just reading or hearing about it.  Operating the miniature solar or hydrogen cars is popular with the students as they learn about the technology.

Joc expects that as the technology becomes more refined and more widely used the cost will be less prohibitive.  In the meantime, Glen Bernard Camp challenges the camping community to become the leaders in environmental sustainability education and to do whatever can be done NOW to teach campers how to sustain the planet’s resources for the benefit of future generations of campers.

– Catherine Ross