Spotlight on Sustainability: Elgin Academy Offers Glimpse of The Future

Spotlight on Sustainability: Elgin Academy Offers Glimpse of The Future

  • The “Spotlight on Sustainability” series in Kane County Connects features local businesses or other organizations that are taking actions to conserve environmental resources, and implement projects or policies to build a more sustainable community. If you know of an organization that should be featured in this series, please contact Cecilia Govrik at the Kane County Division of Environmental & Water Resources at 630-208-8665 or
  • This article was written by Mikey Jakubowski, intern for the Kane County Division of Environmental & Water Resources, with contributions from Elgin Academy staff member Bonita Deering.

Elgin Academy, a school for elementary, middle, and high school students, is making strides in sustainability — giving a glimpse of what the future of our educational facilities could look like.

Sitting atop a hill with a gorgeous city view of downtown Elgin, this school is a leader in sustainability as it relates to efficient land use, facility design and maintenance, and a practical, well-rounded set of educational curricula.

Gardens with native plants are nestled throughout Elgin Academy’s campus.

Founded in 1839, the school was originally comprised of one building, which acted dually as the school and a residential building. That building, now known as Old Main, presently is home to the Elgin Historical Society. The school expanded over the years to four main buildings, including Edwards Hall (for upper school), North Hall (for elementary school), Sears Hall (for middle school), and the Rider Center (for all grade levels).

The campus includes a gymnasium, the Sears Gallery (a multi-use building), and two houses that provide office space. Walking through the Academy’s eighteen acres, it is easy to see the school’s efforts for sustainability, with large garden beds filled with an array of native plants – good not only for water conservation and stormwater detention, but also for providing wildlife habitat.

The Rider Center is the school’s newest and most sustainable facility to date. Built in 2008, the building was designed to meet LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) specifications at the Gold Level. Sustainability was at the core of the initial design and construction of Rider Hall, as “it was intentionally built into a hill to provide natural heating and cooling and lower HVAC usage” said Bonita Deering, Outreach Coordinator.

Large windows in the Rider Center library let in abundant natural light for energy savings, while providing a clear view of the City of Elgin – which helps the school feel like an integral part of the community.

A large portion of the building materials were manufactured from post-consumer recycled materials, and 50 percent of all materials used to construct the building were derived from local and regional sources.

The latter is helpful not only for the local and regional economy, but also for heavily reducing carbon emissions from transportation. While the county does not require construction and demolition contractors to recycle waste (although the Kane County Division of Environmental & Water Resources promotes doing so), 70 percent of Rider Hall’s construction waste was recycled. 

The building’s sustainability does not end there, however, as several maintenance features help to aid in the effort for energy conservation. This includes double-paned windows and doubled walls (with air spaces in between) for good insulation, teaching areas located on the perimeter of the building to allow for natural heating and natural light, energy efficient lighting, a timed HVAC system that recycles already heated and cooled air (instead of releasing it), and panels above the exterior windows that provide radiant heat in the winter.

The list of sustainable facility features at Elgin Academy goes on with continued additions and improvements every year, but what really helps the institution stand out is its incorporation of sustainability into the student curricula.

The Elgin Academy vegetable garden was created a few years ago by the students themselves, and provides healthy food for the school cafeteria and the surrounding community.

Academy biology teacher Bobbie Nabor is designated as the school’s sustainability leader, in charge of keeping the institution accountable for its sustainable practices and features already in place, as well as introducing new ones. Ultimately, however, it is the responsibility of every teacher at Elgin Academy to uphold its sustainability.

According to Deering, sustainability is intertwined into all class curricula at all levels and by all teachers on campus.

“One alumnus stands as proof of this, having developed an acoustical technology that the school has adopted,” she said. “Recycled slag is used to fill in the walls rather than mined sand. This not only helps to remove capital from companies who destroy land with mining, but also helps to slow the array of harmful consequences that mining has, such as water pollution, air pollution, and habitat destruction.”

One extra special program at the school occurs in the spring when students engage in Project-Based Learning activities, during which they collaborate to research and solve a real-life issue. While this program does not primarily deal with sustainability, more times than not the students are learning a concept relating to it. Two years ago, for example, they designed and planted a vegetable garden, creating a distribution plan that resulted in the summer produce being donated to homeless shelters and the fall harvest supplying the academy’s dining hall.

A more recent project consisted of the students researching and finding solutions for poverty in the Elgin area. No matter the topic, the students are gaining hands-on problem-solving experience that builds sustainable skill sets in future leaders.

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