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Catholic Voice
 April 22, 2013   •   VOL. 51, NO. 8   •   Oakland, CA
Other front page stories
New community of Sisters bring
'Word of God'

Annual fundraising effort on track
to raise $2.5M
O'Dowd breaks ground
on environmental center

Saturday work sessions in the Living Lab at Bishop O'Dowd High School begin and end with gardeners gathering to talk about the day's work.

Spring is a time for planting seeds and seedlings in the gardens on the 4.5-acre parcel on the Oakland hillside.
All: josÉ luis aguirre/The Catholic Voice

With seven gleaming shovels poised over the dirt on which will rise the $3.6 million Bishop O'Dowd High School Center for Environmental Studies, an archbishop, a superintendent, a principal, a president and a student body president, among others, donned ceremonial hard hats before getting to work.

The groundbreaking ceremony, under sunny skies on the Oakland campus, was quiet and rather solemn, until it was Annie Prutzman's turn at the shovel. As she dug in, the environmental sciences teacher let out a whoop.

Her "Yes!" echoed across the canyon behind the Oakland school.

Her enthusiasm was understandable. As co-founder and director of the Living Lab on the campus for the past 15 years, Prutzman, along with Living Lab co-founder Tom Tyler, has led hundreds of Saturday workshops to reclaim, reshape and renew the hillside at the back of the campus.

That 4.5-acre Living Lab will be crowned with the new Environmental Education Center, built to the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum. Most of the center's power will come from roof-mounted photovoltaic panels, and rainwater will be collected and stored in cisterns.

Two large indoor laboratory classrooms and a large covered outdoor classroom will provide space not only for burgeoning environmental scientists, but students in other disciplines as well, said Pam Shay, principal.

Also included in the plan are cooperative efforts with both the University of California at Berkeley and Stanford University.

Center for
Environmental Studies

Bishop O'Dowd High School

Bells & whistles: LEED-Platinum building; roof-mounted solar panels; radiant heating system; rain-water harvesting system; and a dashboard monitoring system to track energy and reduce usage.

Groundbreaking: April 11

Expected completion: December

Occupancy: Fall 2014

Cost: $3.6 million

Raised: $2.4 million

Students are expected to be using the center by Fall 2014.

Tyler told the audience of students, teachers, parents and benefactors gathered for the April 11 groundbreaking just how they got to this moment in school history.

The site's history goes back, Tyler noted, to 1951, when Bishop O'Dowd High School was built on the site of a former rock quarry. On the hillside between the school and the East Bay Municipal Utility's District since-closed reservoir, a generation of young men in detention planted a small forest of Monterey and Canary pines and several Coast Live Oaks.

But those trees had to go to make room for the new center. After one last hug, during the winter break, they were taken down and milled on the property. The resulting lumber — about 2,000 board-feet — will become a prominent part of the new building.

Brad Goodhart, who was the school's first ecology teacher and was on campus for the first Earth Day in 1970, attended the groundbreaking ceremony. Some of the native plants on the Living Lab site, he said, such as the Manzanita and ceanothus, which was in full bloom, are transplants from his Mendocino property.

For 20 years, Tyler taught in the school's Room 202, which overlooked an area behind the school that had become a dumping ground during construction of the school's theater in the late 1990s.

As O'Dowd approached its 50th birthday — as well as the turn of the millennium — the notion that the school was not practicing what it was teaching hit home. The celebration provided the opportunity to take on a major project.

The idea of the Living Lab was born.

It has, over the past decade, literally borne fruit. There is an orchard, greenhouse, seedlings among the native plants and beehive. It is a wildlife habitat.

It is also the home of the memorial of Anna Costa, a Bishop O'Dowd student who was killed in a car accident on her way home from school in 1989. Over the years, "Anna's Tribe" has planted trees in her memory, and a mature grove of redwoods encircles a mosaic memorial that provides a peaceful spot for mediation and remembrance.

At the groundbreaking, Archbishop Alex J. Brunett reminded the audience that the environmental center is more than a new building.

"It's a great gift," he said. "These kinds of gifts that come to us are divine gifts, something we can put to use in our lives. Not just something to say we have this, or we have that, or we have the best, but we have a building that becomes the center, the focal point, of quality education."

"A science lab is not simply a place where you learn a lot of facts," the archbishop said, "but a place to teach students to evaluate ideas."

He said the building is designed for the future. "In the future we find our own hope," he said.

A representative of that future, student body president Sophie Vaughan, said her work in the Living Lab has helped her find her own future. This fall, she plans to study environmental policy and entrepreneurship at Middlebury College in Vermont.

She said she began working in the Living Lab as a student in Prutzman's environmental science class, where studying climate change and land degradation seemed daunting.

She said her work in the Living Lab "alleviated my sense of helplessness and empowered me to believe that I could act positively on these issues."

The reclamation of the rock quarry is not lost on Vaughan and her friends.

"I, and other students of my generation, are not entering a world that is untouched. Our job is to restore our world and because I see the Living Lab flourishing, I have hope that we can.

"Moreover, our job is not just to help renew the earth but to build a sustainable world," she said.

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