After nine years in development, Boyds’ Black Hill Regional Park prepares to unveil its new self-sustaining Sustainable Education Every Day, or SEED, classroom, a place of hands-on environmental learning.
All the classroom’s systems will be left exposed so visitors can see how the building works with their own eyes. Notable features include a green wall – a vertical garden fed by recycled rainwater, solar panels, a composting toilet, a covered deck, and real-time data collection of energy and water use.
“It’s really become a labor of love trying to bring this thing to fruition,” said park facility manager Jennifer Scully. “Each piece of the building has been very thoughtfully considered. Our hope is to be able to educate from these components and show people what they could do in their own homes.”
The Friends of Black Hill Nature Programs celebrated the construction of the classroom and held a silent auction to raise funds for the project during its annual meeting, held virtually on Nov. 18.
Black Hill Regional Park hosts a variety of summer camps and field trips, but the visitor center wasn’t constructed with education in mind, Scully said.
“There’s very little private space to do in-depth programming without interruption,” she said.
Scully visited the Phipps Nature Lab in Pittsburgh where she said she fell in love with its innovative, sustainable design.
“As soon as you walked in, all the systems kicked on organically,” she said. “It felt like you were inside this living thing.”
The SEED classroom will house Montgomery Parks’ Preschool in the Park, a drop-off forest preschool. Forest schools are a European model of education where preschoolers spend their time playing outside and learning to respect nature. Nonprofits and government agencies are starting to explore this model across the country, Scully said.
Katrina Fauss, Preschool in the Park’s lead teacher, said she’s excited for the children to explore the building and help monitor its systems.
“My hope is to get them involved so they get a chance to see solar working and water collections — make that part of their lives early on,” Fauss said.
Having the classroom as a home base will also give the students more roaming space around the park, Fauss said.
“Since their legs are so little, we have kind of a small radius,” she said.
Currently, Preschool in the Park is held from 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Once the classroom is complete, Scully said they hope to expand the program to cover three full days a week in order to make it more accessible for working parents.
Middle and high school students will be invited to learn about climate change by exploring the building’s features. For example, a cistern in the building collects water from the roof, which students can then use to feed the living wall.
“We haven’t done a lot of climate education, and we really need to step that up,” Scully said. “I think this classroom is the perfect place to do that kind of work.”
The space will also be available to rent for private and public events.
Partners like Direct Energy, Sun Club and Friends of Black Hill Park have donated generously to help cover construction costs, Scully said.
Preschool in the Park graduate Olivia Perez of Germantown donated $300 of money earned from chores.
“To me, that was the most valuable donation we’ve gotten,” Scully said.
The park is still seeking donor support to help with additional costs, like setting up outdoor play spaces and beautifying the surrounding area. A community garden was recently installed on site, something Scully said is in huge demand across the county. Scully said she anticipates the classroom opening by February 2023.