Waldorf School rewarded for converted container classrooms

COSTA MESA — Standing before the Costa Mesa Planning Commission, Ellen Kawata thanked the city and the Waldorf School of Orange County for helping her business.

As owner of S3 Advisors LLC, a sustainable housing technology company, Kawata was looking for customers to recycle shipping containers into space for people to work.

Along came the Waldorf School, which received the commission’s approval last year to expand its campus with more than 30 of the containers.

“If not for the Waldorf School and their system of developing entire beings and instilling social and environmental responsibility in those beings, we wouldn’t have this chance,” Kawata told the commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting.

The city’s 2010 approval came full circle with the commissioners Tuesday giving the Waldorf School its Green Design award for converting the containers into classrooms, science labs and offices.

“I think both the school and city share the same environmental values, I think it represents the city and school’s commitment to continue those values,” Paul Conolly, chairman of the school’s board of trustees, said at the meeting. "[The project] was done with minimal impact to the students and neighbors around the sites. I think we achieved all the goals.”

Kawata credited the school and city with bringing in more business for S3 Advisors, who are looking at building low-cost housing in Hawaii.

In early May, the private school received 32 containers for the project. The school is the first in Costa Mesa to use converted containers as a learning environment. The containers have been used as traditional classrooms, an art studio, a life science lab and offices, among other things, school officials said.

The cost of construction was 50% less than a traditional wood-framed building, S3 officials said. Commissioner Jim Fitzpatrick called the program a model of flexibility for other local schools looking to responsibly expand.

However, that wasn’t the only environmentally themed accolades given out Tuesday. Several Newport-Mesa schools were recognized for their recycling programs, including one with a “waste-free” lunch where the scraps are used as worm food.

Twitter: @josephserna