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Getting kids to eat green — and greens

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Sometimes numbers are the story, and in the case of the new dining hall addition at Kent Denver School, the numbers are impressive: landfill waste down 90 percent, standard energy costs down 42 percent, leafy vegetable consumption up 500 percent.

But here’s the bigger news: Working with local architects Semple Brown Design, the school has added to its campus an object of practical beauty and groundbreaking efficiency at a reasonable price; a space that’s inviting, well-considered and righteously self-conscious. It is a model of environmental smarts, and on track to become the first school dining facility to be certified green at the highest level — known as LEED platinum, and coveted widely — from the U.S. Green Building Council.

Built for $4.5 million, the now 20,000-square-foot cafeteria aims to educate while it feeds. Students get healthy meals, but they also get a glimpse into the circular process of food production, consumption and waste recycling. There’s something particularly green, and wholly appropriate, in the fact that students who pay $20,000 a year for tuition scrape their own dirty dishes into composting bins.

That combination of human effort and the latest building technology is key to the structure’s economics. It was assembled for $195 per square foot, plus kitchen equipment, and any builder would be “hard pressed to argue the conventional wisdom that you have to spend a lot to get LEED platinum,” said Jerry Walker, associate head of the school and the driving force behind the construction.

Good design makes the building’s case, as well. The hall, with its bamboo floors, is wide open and versatile enough to handle 750 meals at lunchtime, and then flex its movable walls to accommodate three consecutive group meetings in the evening.

The west facade is a wonder of undulating windows and sliding doors that open to one of the best mountain views on the Front Range. The ceiling, lined with narrow maple baffles, slopes from a low of about 11 feet to a high of 22 feet, and the effect is to direct the room’s energy toward the outside where tables and chairs await; it makes you want to go out and play, Colorado style.

The best buildings mark their locations in unique ways, and it is hard to picture this one existing anywhere but on the edge of the Rocky Mountains. Only a regional design team with a firm command of its own turf could have pulled it off.

The angled roof also gives the building’s overall exterior shape a bit of lift while adding a contemporary balance to the fact that it is clad in copper shingles, a nod to a timeless (or these days, dated) motif that stretches across the 200-plus acre Cherry Hills Village campus. On the upside, the shingles are made from 85 percent recycled material.

Of course, it is the school’s 660 sixth- through 12th-graders who will benefit most from the new dining hall. The lunchroom is a quarter-mile from the nearest classroom building, a considerable walk, especially in winter, that is meant to force students to take a mental break during the school day. There are rewards when they arrive, including a new, healthy- options salad bar that has proven popular in the few weeks the cafeteria has been open.

“It’s the first thing kids see, setting the tone and sending a message right out of the gate,” said Walker.

Just ahead from that is an indoor “living wall,” a 14-by-18 foot vertical garden where the school’s chefs grow herbs used in cooking. Semple Brown’s Dru Schwyhart describes it as a psychic center of the room, a contemporary equivalent to the traditional hearth that mirrors the “cultural values of a new generation.”

It’s part of a low-impact, earth-friendly strategy that has the building collecting storm water runoff from its roof and transferring it via rain chains into planter boxes on the ground.

The recycling gets more extreme than that. The plan calls for the planting of 100 fruit trees in the backyard. Students will tend to the trees themselves, fertilize them with compost from the lunchroom, and then harvest the apples and apricots for meals. Eat and repeat, kids.

There are photovoltaic energy collectors on the roof and interior sensors that adjust lights up and down automatically depending on the amount of sunshine in the room. Everything from the plumbing to the landscaping is water-efficient. And so that no one forgets all the efficiency, energy use stats will be projected in real-time on a TV monitor. It’s a braggy move, but teaching requires a bit of show and tell to sink in.

The school has yet to officially win its LEED certification (it spells out as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design): The paperwork can take months. But it meets the criteria with locally sourced and reclaimed materials. It helps that it was an expansion; by adding to the existing 5,000-square- foot building, the project generated limited demolition waste, a LEED plus.

The building’s merits go beyond its environmental sensitivities and its abilities to serve up, in quantity, menu items such as shrimp scampi with baby carrots, Cantonese stir-fry with snow peas or mutter paneer with tofu. And they go beyond the behavior it has inspired, things like an updated, campus-wide recycling program and getting rid of lunch trays for that large reduction in landfill waste.

Kent Denver, which traces its roots back 90 years, has a progressive design tradition, which includes, on its current campus, contributions from the late and respected architect Victor Hornbein. It has set its own high standards, but the new dining hall pushes them higher.

Eat, play, learn about architecture in April

April is Architecture Month, and the Colorado component of the American Institute of Architects has lined up a list of activities to celebrate design, past and present.


Delicious Designs Competition

Colorado architects and chefs team to create desserts inspired by architecture throughout the state. The treats are on the menu at different, and limited, times at various restaurants.

The details: Now through April 30. Visit for info, renderings and locations.

Cost: Varies


Denver Box City for Kids

Children in kindergarten through fifth grade (accompanied by adults) can experience the design and construction industry firsthand by requesting permits, ordering materials, designing buildings and constructing a cardboard city. Architects and design professionals will offer advice and assistance.

The details: Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Wellington E. Webb Municipal Building, 201 W. Colfax Ave.

Cost: Free, but make reservations to guarantee entry. Call 303-446-2266.

Doors Open Denver

The annual don’t-miss event for architecture and urban history fans invites people inside our most interesting buildings, along with some unexpected treasures. Pop in on your own, or sign up for one of the guided tours. This year’s theme, “Modern Architecture: ’50s & Beyond,” promises a few new twists.

The details: Saturday and next Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Headquarters: Union Station, but you can get a map online and tour at your convenience. There are 70 sites in all. Check it out at

Cost: Free, but tickets for guided tours are limited to four per person and two tours per day, per person.


Box City for Kids

A second chance to take part in this children’s event.

The details: April 30, 10 a.m.-1 p.m., Youth Activity Center, 415 E. Monroe Drive, Fort Collins

Cost: Free, but make reservations. Call 303-446-2266.


Screening: “Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House”

The 1948 film stars Cary Grant and Myrna Loy as a couple who think it will be easy to build their dream home. But you know better.

The details: April 20, 5:15 – 8 p.m., County Commons Building, Mount Royal Room, Frisco

Cost: Free

Lecture: “Aspen’s Architecture: Past, Present & Future”

AIA Colorado West, the Aspen Art Museum, the Aspen Historic Preservation Commission, the Aspen Historical Society and special guests explore the city’s significant architecture — past, present and future.

The details: April 21, 6-8 p.m., Aspen Center for Physics, 700 W. Gillespie St., Aspen

Cost: Free

Ray Mark Rinaldi

A rare competition, a unique public show

The most intriguing happening during this month’s celebration of architecture is the Modern House Ideas Competition, a new event that invites young designers to dream up the Colorado house of the future.

How best to apply modern ideas in a changing world? That will be up to the dozens of competitors who have signed on to submit a model home. Expect some free thinking: “Metaphors are welcome, as are optimism, pessimism, pluralism and nihilism,” according to the competition invitation.

The best designs split $1,500 in prizes, and the winner will be published in Modern in Denver magazine.

For the public, there’s a promising exhibit of the entries at Roth + Sheppard Studio during Doors Open Denver weekend, April 16- 17, and again during the last week of the month, April 25-28. Hours are noon-4 p.m. for all dates.

The address: 1900 Wazee St., Suite 100.

Architect Jeff Sheppard also will give a guided tour of the studio and the entries as part of Doors Open Denver, but you must sign up. Go to for the info.

-Ray Mark Rinaldi

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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  • comment avatar Amy Ruth April 16, 2011

    Your article is tone deaf. School budget cuts across the state and you think people want to rejoice in a cafeteria for rich kids? This article only points out the stark reality between the haves and the have-nots.

    While the new addition at Kent Denver is no doubt an architectural wonder, I can’t help comparing Kent’s cafeteria to my kids’.

    “Shrimp scampi with baby carrots, Cantonese stir-fry with snow peas, or mutter paneer with tofu” are some of the items on the lunch menu at Kent. DPS offers Macho Nachos on the 11th and 28th this month.

    Bamboo floors and a living wall sound lovely. I’m sure it’d look just as lovely in the cement-floored basement at school where my kids eat, next to the gum and booger wall.

    Only the elite can afford to pay $20,000 a year for a college preparatory day school. Most people can only hope to save that much to pay for their kids’ in-state tuition 15 years from now.

    At 4.5 million, it’s a great price! Way to rub it in.

  • comment avatar Elizabeth Kent April 16, 2011

    There’s something particularly green, and wholly appropriate, in the fact that students who pay $20,000 a year for tuition scrape their own dirty dishes into composting bins.’

    First off, I support a family of five on a teacher’s salary. Secondly, I send my kids to Kent. They give millions of dollars per year in financial aid. For the previous commentator, and for the writer of this article to make judgements about the kind of kids that go to Kent is just unfair and inexperienced. For several years now I have hosted my children’s friends (some wealthy, some not) for meals. I have seen nothing but impeccable manners and high levels of personal responsibility. These kids have raised our game. And this dining hall will raise it higher. Public schools are also feeding kids more from local (sometimes onsite) gardens. It is unfortunate that they don’t have the resources to construct facilities, but they are making positive changes.

  • comment avatar Amy Ruth April 16, 2011

    I don’t question the integrity and manners of the children that attend Kent, and nowhere in my comment do I make any judgments about them.

    I do, however, question the timing of an article that admires such opulence at a time when many people face tough economic challenges, most likely not pertaining to whether their lunch is “green

  • comment avatar Elizabeth Kent April 16, 2011

    Sorry, I thought ‘elite rich-kids, that nobody wants to rejoice for’ was a knock. I was mostly responding to the author of the article (the one I quoted) but included you because your tone was so negative. By your logic we can’t celebrate your child’s school’s successes as long as there are many kids (and there are) who don’t have it as good. I am having trouble understanding that train of thought.

  • comment avatar Amy Ruth April 16, 2011

    As a teacher, I would think you could quote me correctly. The word rejoice, in my original comment, refers to the cafeteria, not the kids. What you’ve written above are your own words, not a quote from me, even if you did put apostrophes around them.

    And I think calling the kids at Kent rich is not a misstatement. If you were to compare the median income of parents at Kent to those of say, my neighborhood DPS school, I’m sure Kent would come out higher. That’s not a knock. It simply is.

    The fact that you’re having trouble understanding my train of thought just highlights how out of touch you are. Eating “green” is not a concern of the common man, but one of the rich and privileged.

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