Imagine a futuristic building that can work in harmony like species in an ecosystem and mimic the beauty, resourcefulness and efficiency of nature’s surroundings.
It incorporates net zero energy, net zero water, carbon neutral and nontoxic materials into its construction. The building is so innovative in environmental design that it can generate hot water with its solar thermal panels, reduce the need for artificial lighting, heating and cooling, eliminate the need for toilet flushing and can even divert solid waste from the landfill to recycle and reuse streams.
It also is one of only seven buildings in the world designed to meet the the most stringent set of green-building standards ever created in modern-day history.
Now click your heels three times and say “there’s no place like AFF.”
Since its founding more than 60 years ago, the Alice Ferguson Foundation has been dedicated to educating visitors of all ages about the natural world, inspiring them to recognize their role in protecting it and seeking innovative ways to solve environmental challenges, according to an information booklet.
“The Alice Ferguson Foundation has been a premier provider of transformative, experiential, environmental education programs for students in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area,” Lori Arguelles, the foundation’s executive director, said. “Over the past six decades, we’ve served nearly half a million students. … Our mission is to connect people to nature, sustainable agricultural practices and the cultural heritage of their local watershed and we do that through education, advocacy and stewardship.”
When the time came to renovate and refresh its educational campus, the Foundation honored its mission by regenerating, not depleting, the environment through state-of-the-art green design and construction.
The foundation’s Hard Bargain Farm broke new ground Oct. 23 in Accokeek with the unveiling of its new Environmental Education Building, a living structure that not only demonstrates a strong bridge between the natural and built environments, but also the sustainable use of natural resources and the science, technology, engineering and math concepts embodied therein.
“Our guiding principles have been education, inspiration and innovation, all three of which are exemplified in the building we are here to unveil today,” Arguelles said. “A building [that] embraces the Living Building Challenge which is the most rigorous set of energy efficiency green-building standards in the world today.”
Now that construction of the education building has finished, the foundation has to meet the Living Building Challenge’s criteria for net zero energy and water goals for one year.
Once the foundation is given the green light for certification, it will become the eighth leader in the world in providing advanced education programs, specifically in the area of long-term environmental sustainability.
“As you’ll soon learn, it’s more than just a building; it is our newest teaching tool,” said Dan Jackson, president of the board of directors at the foundation. “As an environmental engineer by training, I’m excited about how the workforce of the future will benefit from the STEM based education opportunities so abundant in this building. … I know that the innovation we exemplify is going to change the face of construction forever.”
U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said he couldn’t be happier about the positivity the education building will bring for thousands of Marylanders, especially the residents of Prince George’s County.
“The Alice Ferguson Foundation has made such a positive difference in our environment and the legacies that we’re leaving to our children and grandchildren,” Cardin said. “For 60 years [and] 500,000 children, this is an incredible record. … This is team Maryland and we’re proud of what we do every day. … What we’re doing here at the [Foundation] is a model for what we do in Maryland and around the nation.”
For Cardin, the building is not just a national model, but a living example of the relationship between the built environment and the natural world.
“This is a building that will be positive on carbon emissions which means it actually subtracts carbon from our environment,” said Cardin. “It’s going to be totally friendly on the use of water [and] is a living example for the students that come through here. This center has been here for 60 years. It is an incredibly valuable part of our educational system.”
Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III said the project is a dream come true for the county.
“Here you have these very bright kids going around this nature, going around this farm, understanding how science, math and art all come together in the beauty of this facility,” said Baker (D). “We really are blessed in this county. … We’re making great progress in this county. We’re going in the right direction. … But the thing that we want to make sure [of] is the quality of [our children’s] education; that is what this stands for. … It’s to bring our young people here and get them to understand that history is alive, that science is alive, that art is alive and it’s right here in this facility.”
For other county leaders like Prince George’s County Council Chairman Mel Franklin, he is grateful for the project’s vision toward a green and sustainable future.
“Today’s really a celebration of innovation,” said Franklin (D). “This is one of seven living buildings in the entire world. … So we should celebrate this achievement for what it means not just for the county, not just for the region, but for the world. We have the obligation to be the stewards of God’s earth [and] what God has blessed us with. To imagine that we can do so in a way that helps foster development is truly incredible. … This really is about opening minds so that we have students coming from Tokyo, South Korea [and] England coming right here to the Hard Bargain Farm because they know that we’re bringing the world to Prince George’s County and we’re bringing innovation for the rest of the world in terms of the environment. … With innovation like this, the best is yet to come.”
Sen. C. Anthony Muse (D-Prince George’s) said innovative projects like the Environmental Education Building promotes the importance of protecting the environment, a lesson that will carry on to students and future generations of environmental stewards.
“The net zero water and energy goals embodied in this living building help us all to reflect back on a time when we lived closer to the land and better understood the rhythms of nature,” Muse said. “We humans are but one species in a complex ecosystem interdependent on others and yet often we can be thoughtless and careless about our actions and their consequences. The thought-provoking lessons that the students learn here will now be taken to an entirely new level as they examine water, waste and energy through the lens of the foundation’s newest teaching tool.”