Solar-powered classroom about to make debut 

An off-the-grid classroom is about to open in one of San Francisco’s most environmentally disadvantaged neighborhoods.

Hunters Point-based Literacy for Environmental Justice is planning a massive celebration on April 18 when it officially opens the 1,500-square-foot EcoCenter — an innovative building in Heron’s Head Park.

The nonprofit runs programs that teach youth about environmental issues.

It’s also the steward of the 23-acre Port of San Francisco-owned park — which opened in 1999 — where trails wind to a tranquil Bay shoreline popular with wildlife.

The intensively industrialized area was abandoned in 1994 when the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard was shuttered, financially devastating the surrounding community, which was predominantly black.

Solar panels on the roof’s crest face a switchyard that was once a part of the now-toppled Hunters Point Power Plant, which belched pollution over the neighborhood until 2006.

Other behemoth industrial operations, including a sorting and transfer station for nearly all of The City’s recyclable waste, operate on the opposite side of the environmental education center.

The solar panels will be the building’s only source of power.

Electrical equipment inside is painted green and the cables are splayed in spiderweb fashion over the walls.

“It’s pretty radical because people don’t normally see electrical cables,” Project Manager Laurie Schoeman said. “It’s really a celebration of solar energy.”

The flat portions of the roof were recently vegetated and a small pond was included to provide avian habitat.

The living roof, which insulates the EcoCenter and protects against fires, is expected to flourish within months.

Rain runs off the roof into three tanks, which provide the building’s only sources of water.

“Every drop of rain that falls on this roof has to be managed because there are no storm drains,” Schoeman said.

Water flows from one of the tanks into the toilet system and is treated after it’s flushed in a series of large tanks inside the classroom.

After the wastewater is treated, it will flow through a simulated indoor wetland with plants and fish, and then will be used to irrigate outdoor vegetation.

The wetland isn’t needed to treat water after it leaves the treatment tanks, but it will be used to teach kids about the cleansing properties of such ecosystems.

Material used to build the classroom, including wood and concrete, came from locally recycled materials, and plants were grown by youth enrolled in the nonprofit’s programs.

Funding came from donated, local, state and federal dollars.

A unique new classroom

1,500 square feet:
Size of the EcoCenter
64: Seats that can fit into the classroom building
4,800 gallons: Capacity of each of the three onsite rainwater tanks
24 acres: Size of Heron’s Head Park
1,200: Students that have helped restore the park’s habitat
5,000: Volunteer hours invested in the park

Source: Literacy for Environmental Justice

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