The Learning Barge

What to do when the local river is incredibly polluted and industry has sucked up virtually all of the shoreline that might otherwise be usable to help teach kids about the problem? It's easy... create a "Learning Barge" that can easily travel from one part of the river to another, is eco-friendly itself, and can help teach them about the river it floats on and the steps we all can take to help regenerate rivers like it around the world.That, in effect is what's taking place on the Elizabeth River in Virginia, where for over a century heavy industry has lined its banks and polluted its shores... Schoolkids will be able to take field trips in conjunction with a grassroots organization called the Elizabeth River Project (ERP) to discover a new way to look at a river that most of them probably only know from driving past it on the interstate.

It's been designed by architectural students at the University of Virginia with complete sustainability in mind... The barge is being built using recycled materials and green technologies to help teach it as well... It uses captured rainwater as its source of water for handwashing, and both solar and wind technologies to generate its energy needs. It even has a radiant heat flooring system so that hot water from some of the solar panels can be used to heat its enclosure. The barge then has planting beds to help filter it's gray water, and is designed to allow for an " outdoor classroom" experience that enables kids to experience how industry is affecting the river from every observable angle....

In addition to the use of the barge by schoolkids, the barge will also serve as the means by which the physical restoration of the river by groups like the ERP can continue. Once launched in 2008, it will help facilitate wetland plantings along the river, the development of new oyster reefs, soil testing, water testing and other efforts at restoring the rivers health... All things the kids can investigate and incorporate into a "greener" outlook when they return to their traditional classrooms at the end of the day as well...

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