So my students took on the challenge of designing and mathematically modeling a root cellar for the school. We found an appropriate site, a portion of the basement accessible by a bulkhead, that we could retrofit to become a passively cooled root cellar space*.
The kids were totally pumped! They dove into that math, the concepts, modeling the heat flow, taking data down there. It was awesome. They came up with a plan. We met with the principal, the head custodian, and a grant writer. They were all on board - provided that we do all the necessary fund-raising, and got all the necessary permits.
All of that momentum and positivity slowed to a dead hault when we met with the building inspector to make sure that we could permit the retrofit, and then his analysis was a total buzz-kill. (That's gotta be a tough job, to be fair: telling people their idea is literally "not permitted"). Not only could we not have students down there, but we would not be allowed to put up any walls to portion off the space. It's frickin HUGE down there, and there was no way we could passively cool the entire space to the necessary temperatures. Why not? There was no sprinkler head down there. There was also no standard-sized doorway into the space. The bulkhead on the outside leads to a mini-door, maybe 4 ft tall. Bummer. Not exactly up to code for what we wanted to do down there.
So I thought the project was dead. Great idea. Impossible logistics.
But when I ran into the head facilities guy, Thom Wood, who was also at the meeting with the city building inspector, I was shocked to hear his impressions of that meeting. I was all "Bummer about the sprinkler system, and the no building walls down there, huh?" And he was all "What do you mean? We can easily just add another sprinkler head for like $100, no big deal. Also, I was thinking we should call up that company from Barre that cuts cement. We could get them down there to cut the foundation so we can have a standard-sized door." I was aghast with delight. What!? This was possible again? Sweeeeeeeet! Thom Wood: unexpected hero of the day!
So we're still working on it. Here's where things stand presently: one of last year's juniors is still working on this with me as an independent study. We've continued to meet with Thom Wood who outlined the process of getting all the necessary permits, starting with the zoning permit, since we'll need to build a little shed over the now-existing bulkhead. We've met with the city zoning permit guy and he was like "You don't need to present this to the Design Review Board. Just send me a letter with sketches and a description of the outside." No problem, sir. No problem.
The student got that done, and now we're on to the Building Permit application, which will be a little more mmmm... in depth. But hopefully we'll have that done by December. We're still chugging. I love this stuff!
|This is what the bulkhead looks like now.|
|This is the student's rendition of the bulkhead with the shed-entrance to the root cellar over it.|
*"What the heck is a root cellar?" is a question I run into more frequently than I would have expected. It's a cool space (usually 35-50 degrees Fahrenheit) used to store vegetables like carrots, potatoes, cabbage, onions, etc. It was how people stored food before electric refrigerators were available. Typically built into the side of a hill, or a basement, the naturally cooler temperature of the earth helped to stabilize the temperature at a slightly below comfortable level.