Usually going to school is no day at the beach, but West Hawaii Explorations Academy Public Charter School was designed for outdoor fun. Built by the sustainability-oriented architecture team at Ferraro Choi, the multi-building campus embraces nature through elements you wouldn’t find at your average school, such as a brightly colored winged-canopy over an open air auditorium for student events, agriculture/aquaculture project areas and wet laboratories, and even a 20,000-gallon shark/reef/touch pool!
The 6th through 12th-grade public charter school has come a long way from its days of tents and improvised classrooms with shipping containers as buildings. WHEA’s new, expanded educational space has been inspired by the ideas of current and visiting students and parents over the past 20 years. The 1,600-square-foot buildings across from the Gateway Center at the Natural Energy Laboratory of Hawaii Authority (NELHA) will house classrooms, workshop spaces, wet labs, agriculture and aquaculture project areas, shark/reef/touch pool, open air amphitheater, and multi-sport play court as well as administration—all of which support their original vision of educating students outside.
WHEA’s buildings are LEED equivalent, so they’re designed to meet the U.S. Green Building Council’s sustainability standards. The school was designed to achieve LEED® 2009 For Schools Platinum, and is a net-zero energy facility. It uses cold deep seawater distributed by the nearby NELHA park to chill its cold earth agricultural projects.
Students at the school, which specializes in science focused, self-directed learning, have not only worked on unique agriculture/aquacultural projects, but they’ve also undertaken some impressive robotics endeavors, according to West Hawaii Today. They’ve used a 3-D printer to create real prosthetic limbs, including a fully jointed and mobile plastic hand being used by a 3-year-old girl on Oahu who was born with no fingers. Another project to create aluminum wheels is benefiting the NASA Mars Exploration Rover Mission.
The first 12,000 square feet (Phase 1) of the site’s planned 20,000sf have been completed so far. The school will grow incrementally and add a classroom building each time it can secure funds to eventually serve up to 350 students.
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