Green School by James Cameron's Wife Suzy Amis Opens in California

© R.Cruger. The MUSEum topped by a Stegosaurus skeleton and signage of sustainable themes including waste management, biodiversity, energy and transportation.

If James Cameron's fictional universe Pandora had schools for humans, MUSE is what they might look like.

"Avatar" director, James Cameron and his wife, Suzy Amis Cameron, were in this Santa Monica Mountains of Calabasas, California this week to cut the ribbon at the MUSE School, located in a tree-filled 22-acre “green” campus, complete with compost and recycling bins, and a reclamation area where materials are re-purposed.

© R.Cruger. Director James Cameron and his wife Suzy Amis Cameron, MUSE School co-founder.

Two students introduced Amis Cameron who described her vision for the student-centered environment: "I had a dream to create a school where students learn who they are as individuals…" she addressed the group of kids sitting on mushroom-shaped wooden stools on the grassy playground. “To inspire young people to live consciously with themselves, one another and the planet…and to inspire each other. Today that dream is a reality."

© R.Cruger. Early childhood classrooms at MUSE campus.

Holistic, community-minded and future-focused are some of the guiding principles of the K-5 school (with plans for a middle school next fall). This green school was relocated to this idyllic spot from Topanga Canyon, where Amis Cameron founded MUSE with her sister Rebecca in 2006 following the same philosophy.

This setting, at the former Calmont School, was renovated by Ecovations Lifestyle’s Darren Moore (featured on Planet Green’s Alter-Eco show with Adrian Grenier), with a zero-waste and zero-emissions goal.

There are metal roofs, ceramic concrete with recycled glass, reused wood from existing structures, solar tubes, zero VOC paints in and out, water conservation, Emeco 111 Navy chair of recycled Coca-Cola bottles, and other renewable energy components. Sustainable practices are posted on the walls – basically, no plastic -- bags, bottles, utensils, cellophane wrap and cardboard coffee cups are banned.

© R.Cruger. Darren Moore of Ecovations shows off repurposed materials in table and windows.

Beyond math, English and science courses, part of the curriculum focuses on teaching sustainability, from the materials in our classrooms to the food at lunch. Students plant, grow and tend vegetables in the garden and greenhouse. As the head of the school Jamie Estill said about the Camerons, "they walk their talk.”

The Amis sisters worked with leaders in education, Global Green USA’s green school initiative and Ecovations which implemented an aggressive reuse and waste diversion in line with the school’s zero waste plan, exceeding LEED standards.

Old roofing was hauled to a recycler that reuses it in asphalt, the conference room table and windows of Douglas fir and cedar were crafted from trailers previously on site, stormwater is collected and heated with solar as part of the comprehensive plan.

© R.Cruger. Ribbon-cutting with MUSE students, Amis Cameron and Zev Yaroslavsky, LA County Supervisor.

Some of the companies that contributed in the sustainable renovation include:
Livingreen (AFM Safecoat paints, adhesives, coatings and caulking)
Progressive Insulation (high-performance Batt Insulation)
Habitat for Humanity (pickup and donation of usable materials)
Serious Energy (energy monitoring-software and setup, and R9 windows)
Solatube (skylights)
Polytech Environmental (clean ventilation)

© R.Cruger. An impressive treehouse at MUSE built with repurposed wood on site.

Moore is proceeding in phases, monitoring energy usage to determine the most efficient improvements. "We want to use a solar array, so it’s not wasted.”

Watching the students slide down the hillside at recess, he adds, "This is a blank canvas. We’re letting the kids show us the most natural place to erect a slide.”

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Tags: Education | Green Building | Recycled Building Materials | Zero Waste

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