Howard S. Wright Constructors photo
An aerial shot of the new Valley Catholic School, taken Feb. 1.
Howard S. Wright Constructors photo
An aerial shot of the new Valley Catholic School, taken Feb. 1.
BEAVERTON — It's cost them, but the Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon have stuck to their environmental principles.

Caring for God's creation is one of the spiritual priorities of the 125-year-old religious community. For these 67 women, the ideal goes beyond words. They have paid extra to build a new environmentally sound K-8 school here on their Beaverton campus.

"When the Sisters set their mind to something they really stick with it," says Bob Weber, president of Valley Catholic, a school founded by the Sisters. "It doesn't surprise me. It shows their commitment."

The green features have added about 15 percent to cost of the $16.2 million project. But the vegetation-laden roof, high-tech windows and advanced climate control will save money in the long run.

The new 67,000-square-foot school, which opens in the fall, replaces classes housed in the 1930s convent and in portable buildings. The aim is to earn Gold Certification through the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

The green roof will filter storm water and will help keep the school cool during hot weather. The property will have several swales to accept runoff, filter the water and keep much of it out of the sewers.

This will be a smart building. For example, when occupants of one room want fresh air and open a window, the heating and cooling system in that room will shut off, but keep running in rooms where the windows are still closed.

In lieu of flooring made of petroluem products that emit unhealthful gasses, the Sisters chose bio-based tile made of corn chips. Interior insulation is made of recycled blue jeans.  

Building materials are manufactured locally and are largely made of recycled content. Finishes and paints emit few nasty compounds. Hybrid vehicles and carpools will get priority parking.  

A large oak tree had to be taken out for the construction. The wood is being recycled to build doors, ceilings, ambo, altar and chairs in the new building's chapel.

"Each step of the way, the Sisters needed to make commitments for sustainability," says Paul Gram, a real estate development manager who volunteered to be a liason between the Sisters and builders, engineers and government officials. Gram was not always sure about spending more, given the economy, but the Sisters overrode him.  

"The Sisters are very innovative and forward thinking on this," says Marlene Gillis, who oversees the LEED process for Soderstrom Architects. The firm designed the new building.  

Gillis says the Sisters don't focus simply on doing the minimum to get certified, but have "absolute dedication" to creating the most efficient, sustainable building they can.  

Gillis cites studies showing that comfortable temperature, daylight levels and views help students learn better. Test scores improve under the kind of conditions Valley Catholic elementary and middle-school students will experience next year.


The green features of the school will not be forgotten as the years go on. Teachers plan to use the green roof, for example, as a way to teach science. There is a viewing parapet so students can observe it safely. Brian Harvey, a parent, saved a cross-section of the 200-year-old oak tree so students can study it.

"It speaks so loudly about what we are called to do as Christian people — to save the Earth for the next generations," says Sister Charlene Herinckx, Superior General of the Sisters. "For years the Sisters have been preparing young people for their future. We want to keep the world good for them."