Northwest students go back to school in greener, healthier classrooms
Author: Karen O'Donnell Stein
Posted: September 2, 2014

Dozens of students in Oregon and Washington will be going back to school this fall in new, airy, bright, healthy, and green classrooms designed at Portland State University (PSU). The SAGE—Smart Academic Green Environment—modular classrooms have been installed to address concerns that the more than 350,000 portable classrooms in use today provide unhealthy learning environments. 

Nine SAGE classrooms will open their doors at five schools in the Edmonds School District in Washington while the Corvallis Waldorf School will begin classes in a new modular building sporting three classrooms. Three additional SAGE classrooms will be installed at an Edmonds School District high school in December. A ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Corvallis Waldorf School classroom is scheduled to take place on Thursday, October 2.

The healthy learning spaces feature high ceilings, natural light, fresh air, no toxic materials and systems to keep the temperature at a comfortable level with a minimal amount of energy. The SAGE design, under development since 2010, won an international SEED Award for social, economic and environmental design in 2013. 

“It’s extremely gratifying to know that children will finally be benefitting from a healthy, sustainably designed learning environment that we’ve been working with our partners to perfect and distribute,” said Margarette Leite, SAGE project lead and assistant professor at the PSU School of Architecture. “We were motivated to design a better classroom when our own child was enrolled in a school that was making use of a poorly designed portable.”  

The LEED-ready SAGE classroom uses high-efficiency Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERV), which take the place of a traditional HVAC system and are capable of providing 100 percent fresh air—a significant increase over conventional modular classrooms. It also includes energy-efficient fans and material in the walls that absorbs heat in hot weather and releases it in cold. Overall, SAGE will reduce energy usage by 50 percent while providing more natural light with four times more windows than in conventional modular classrooms. Its interior features bio-based flooring, natural cork bulletin boards, no-VOC paints and high vaulted ceilings that expose the building’s systems, enabling students to learn about how the structure is powered and constructed. 

The SAGE project was initiated by Leite and Sergio Palleroni, a PSU professor of architecture and Leite’s husband, and designed by students in the School of Architecture. SAGE received financial support from the PSU Institute for Sustainable Solutions and Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber’s Oregon Solutions initiative helped connect the project to partners including manufacturer Blazer Industries of Aumsville, Ore., AIA Portland, Energy Trust of Oregon, Oregon BEST, PAE Engineering, and many others. 

SAGE classrooms are distributed in the Northwest by Pacific Mobile Structures of Chehalis, Wash. Other national distributors include Satellite Shelters and Triumph Modular.