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LEED Building Tour: Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind

A Colorado Springs building with 138 years of historical significance has just received a fascinating makeover – and you wouldn’t even know it.

Local architects of RTA Architects in Colorado Springs were so attentive to preserving the historical façade of the Gottlieb Building that only a small new wing hints at the tremendous project inside. It’s a project so attuned to environmental impact that it will receive a LEED Gold certification for use of elements such as sustainably harvested wood, low VO flooring, and regionally sourced steel. Not only that but that the building is strategically designed to serve deaf, blind, and deaf-blind students from birth to 21!

In 2009, the Colorado School for the Deaf and Blind received a grant to remodel  the historic Gottlieb Building. They chose to do so in accordance with standards set by LEED, a program of the US Green Building CouncilLEED independently verifies buildings’ Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design in regards sustainability measures such as site development, water efficiency, energy performance, environmentally friendly materials and resources, and final indoor environmental quality.

The new Gottlieb building, opened in 2011, features energy-efficient windows, low-flow toilets, recycling stations, adjustable solar tubes for energy-free lighting, and a rooftop garden off the science wing designed for enjoyment and experimentation. Window blinds open automatically when someone enters a room and close when everyone leaves, encouraging daylighting in lieu of electric lighting whenever possible. The forward-thinking HVAC  system even alerts teachers when the building is at equilibrium so that they may open the classroom windows if they like without affecting the building’s energy consumption.  These features benefit not only the environment but also student and teacher attentiveness, mood, and health. Arguably most important, the building showcases a uniquely efficient use of space to reduce utility consumption all day every day by maximizing use of every classroom. Teachers no longer have assigned rooms, but rather individual desks in the teacher’s room. That allows for every room in the building to be used during every class period. The new system has required a cultural shift at the school, which has been embraced by students and teachers who believe in the importance of sustainable development.

What’s miraculous about this project is how seamlessly RTA integrated both environmental and adaptive features of the building. Glass walls subdivide central halls, allowing deaf students to communicate with one another across large spaces. Meanwhile bands of frosting on the glass alert students with partial blindness to the presence of the walls. In other spaces, glass is frosted to create quiet areas where deaf students can sign in private. There are several clusters of social seating area where deaf students can face one another for easy communication. All the seats have solid bases that will be easily detected with a walking cane. Thick insulation throughout the building serves the dual purpose of enhancing the building’s energy efficiency and minimizing ambient noises that can be disruptive to those with hearing aids or cochlear implants.

The intensive thoughtfulness that went in to every feature is just thrilling. The coalescence among staff, students and architects was critical for a project of this caliber to come to fruition. This is a space with history, energy efficiency, and accessibility that absolutely sets a new standard. And it’s right here in beautiful Colorado Springs.

I can’t wait to see what’s next! How about you?

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