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Students show off sustainable designs at DuPage County challenge

Addison Trail students, from left, senior Luis Cervantes, junior Noel Barrios and junior Erick Ramirez pose in front of their project design of a college dormitory with a neighboring farm on April 9.
Addison Trail students, from left, senior Luis Cervantes, junior Noel Barrios and junior Erick Ramirez pose in front of their project design of a college dormitory with a neighboring farm on April 9.

A college dormitory with a farm, home insulation made from newspaper and cargo freight panels for siding were a few of the ideas on display this month by local high school students at the seventh-annual Sustainable Design Challenge at DuPage County’s JTK Administration Building in Wheaton.

One design featured a model for permeable concrete designed to collect rain that could be stored underground. The “Eco House” by Glenbard East students Sara Smith, Fatima Sakrani and Katie Czervionke also included bamboo flooring, newspaper insulation and wallpaper in the form of recycled paper.

“I wouldn’t mind having a house like this,” Sakrani said.

The challenge was co-hosted by DuPage County and the Glen Ellyn-based School and Community Assistance for Recycling and Composting Education. It featured nearly 30 student groups and about 100 students from Glenbard East, Glenbard South, Wheaton Warrenville South, Addison Trail and Naperville North high schools.

For students, the day also included a visit to a “green building” certified by the federal government’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program as well as a no-waste lunch, in which students were asked to bring their own utensils.

The event gave students a chance to meet several DuPage County officials, including County Board member Pete DiCianni, DuPage County Environmental Committee chairman; and Jim Zay, chairman of the DuPage Stormwater Management Planning Committee, which sponsors the contest.

“They’re the generation that’s coming up as technology changes,” Zay said. “They’re the ones who are going to be the engineers doing all this stuff and promoting it. People my age, we didn’t have this back then. We made houses out of brick and mortar and wood.”

Zay said that when the contest started seven years ago, it was “just little bottles and Popsicle sticks.” Now it features large models made of all kinds of materials, many of them recyclable.

“I’ve had high school kids tell me they changed their [future] major after this project,” said SCARCE executive director Kay McKeen, who started the contest.

Despite the contest’s growth, McKeen said the concept of sustainability hasn’t planted itself in many schools.

“It’s new,” she said. “Still at seven years [of the contest], there are a lot of teachers who we need to teach about green building and careers as well as protecting the environment.”

Glenbard East teacher Dave Krodel had his entire Advanced Placement Environmental Sciences class participate in the contest.

“It’s got a creative outlet to it,” he said. “We don’t do a lot of project-based stuff, so there are some (students) that definitely run with it. They like the aesthetic opportunity. Some of them are a little more analytical. I think they like the problem-based aspect of it.

“And then there are some that are pretty financially driven,” he said. “So they get into the numbers and the cost. They like pricing stuff out and seeing how much it will save them.”

Like Megan Lanners, a student of Krodel’s who says that her “Water House” model would save $2,300 in taxes because of its sustainable attributes. The model, designed with classmates Nathan Jacobs and Patrick Moscatel, featured “rain chains” that would filter rainwater from gutters into a storage tank.

It also included a vine garden, depicted by a checkerboard web of duct tape, that would grow and shade the house in the summer while letting in sunlight in the winter when its leaves die.

Krodel said he hopes the contest attracts more residents in the future to observe and recognize the ideas generated by the students.

The event is already being noticed, though. McKeen said other counties have contacted her about starting a similar event.

“No county is doing this,” she said. “We are ahead of the curve by seven years.”

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