An opening for science

Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale has come a long way since taking up residence on the property of a church 10 years ago.

Last week, the 460-student school - which a couple of years ago moved into its own separate campus on Grevillea Avenue - opened the doors to a brand-new, state-of-the-art science building.

The facility, which features two indoor classrooms and an outdoor section with a chicken coop and a fish tank, incorporates sustainable elements such as fans and windows to control temperatures without the aid of air conditioning.

The outdoor area also includes a cistern for pumping rainwater from the ground.

To do this, students will harness the power of their own legs with a stationary bicycle.

The water will be used for the school's garden.

At the grand-opening ceremony Wednesday, actor Thom Barry - known for his portrayal of Detective Will Jeffries in the former TV series "Cold Case" on CBS - was on hand to cut the ribbon.

Barry said the new facility reminds him of the hog farm he grew up on in rural Ohio.

"We dug cisterns by hand," he said in a baritone voice and speaking into a microphone on the stage of the school's amphitheater. "Who would have thought that that was being environmentally conscious? Back then it was just a cheap way to get water into the house."

The $380,000 project was made possible by the Ahmanson Foundation, Weingart Foundation and S. Mark Taper Foundation.

As for the chicken coop - the school's live birds also arrived on Wednesday - the students will harvest the eggs.

"It's all about the cycle of life," said John Quiter, chairman of the board at Cuningham Group Architecture, which worked with students to help design the project. "The chickens produce waste product, which the plants can live off of. We collect the water to keep the chickens hydrated. You don't need to reach across the world to sustain yourself. You can sustain yourself in a very small environment."

In 2009, Environmental Charter High was named one of six finalists in the Obama administration's inaugural Race to the Top Challenge, a nationwide competition that drew upward of 1,000 applicants.

The impressive finish earned the school a visit from U.S. Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis, as well as media coverage from the major networks.