“It’s through work like this that we become a better species, and can work towards collectively solving the increasing problems facing our environment.”
We recently sat down with Rob Smallwood of Smallwood Design & Construction, a long-time IslandWood supporter, to learn more about the process of designing and building the new Harbor Classroom on IslandWood’s Bainbridge campus and why environmental education is so critical to our future.
How did you first get to know IslandWood and how have you been involved since then?
I first met Paul and Debbi, IslandWood founders, about 20-21 years ago, when I helped build their home, and I learned about IslandWood through them then. They were just embarking on this concept and I thought it was an intriguing and fantastic idea. I’ve followed IslandWood all the way through its history. I was also on the board of Sustainable Bainbridge for several years and worked with IslandWood in that role as well.
Can you tell us a little bit about the recent Harbor Classroom project? How did you incorporate sustainable design throughout the process?
We were approached by Mark Becker [IslandWood’s Senior Manager of Facilities & Hospitality] to create a classroom structure at IslandWood near Blakely Harbor. We were asked to create a “stop-over” outdoor classroom space for kids to gather on their way down to the beach or back from the harbor. It needed to be a spot where educators could pause and discuss what they had just seen in the forest or on the beach, and where students could also work on projects. The spot needed to have seating, as well as an area where an instructor could stand and speak to groups of kids.
We created desks, as well as desk-height benches along the perimeter of the building for kids to be able to stand and spread out while they work on projects. We wanted to let in as much light as we could, and to make sure the structure is open-air while being protected from the elements.
We used logs produced by Smythe Lumber in Indianola – a small mill that does a lot of their harvesting from areas that are already being cleared for other purposes. In addition, we repurposed and/or recycled the leftover lumber scraps from the project. The roof of the shelter itself displaces a lot of rainwater, and there is a drainage swale by the building, which collects and redirects water runoff into a natural estuary that is connected to Blakely Harbor. Using natural materials, like those used in many other structures on campus, was also very important to us. One interesting twist on this was that I collected several buckets of oyster shells that we “seeded” into the concrete in the structure, to act as a visual tie-in between Blakely Harbor and the Harbor Classroom.
Why do you choose to support IslandWood?
I’m a big believer in science education, particularly in how it relates to the environment. I think that science education and environmental science are critical because they are cultural and social as well. [For instance,] it’s good that there’s been an acknowledgment of the Salish people, the Indigenous people from this area, and increasingly awareness of the ways that they are stewards of these lands and waters.
The concept of preparing the next generation of environmental problem solvers is well worth supporting. I like that IslandWood extends beyond educating children, to include educators and community members as well. And I also really appreciate that [through IslandWood programs] kids are learning about public utilities, engineering, and stormwater impacts as well. Kids get to see, experience, and understand these things as part of our environment.
What are your hopes for IslandWood in the years to come?
I hope that IslandWood continues to support the Puget Sound area and local education systems with environmental education. It’s through work like this that we become a better species, and can work towards collectively solving the increasing problems facing our environment. The social and economic impacts of environmental issues are huge, and can sometimes point towards a gloomy future. But people on the front lines are aware of the bigger picture. We really need to be aware of that bigger picture – and environmental education is how you get there.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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