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It’s the start of a new semester for Wilson High School students, which means they’re halfway through their stay at the University of the District of Columbia’s Building 52—their magnificently redone campus is set to finish this July. Right now, more than 200 people are working every day to meet that deadline, completely gutting and restoring the landmarked, 75-year-old building. I took a tour last week (the same day this happened, unsettlingly) with the general contractor, Sigal Construction’s Sarah Norman, focusing specifically on the green aspects of the renovation.

The most enviro-friendly thing about Wilson is what they’re not doing: Bringing in a ton of new material to replace old but still-sound walls, floors, ceilings, and details. Much of the gracefully curving hallways and high-ceilinged classrooms will just be restored, with hardwood flooring taken up and put back down again, and terrazzo staying where it’s intact (now they just have to scrub off spray paint from a recent tagging rampage). All the windows have already been replaced, though, making for superior insulation, acoustics, and lighting.

Then there are the bells and whistles. Stimulus funding provided for a green roof the size of a basketball court, which science classes will be able to access from a top-floor terrace. Another grant got them a 12,000 square foot cistern for recycling rainwater. Meanwhile, during the construction, a group of students comes up from the interim facility to visit and learn about the construction process, with the help of volunteer professionals.

High school buildings—so much more fun when you don’t actually have to take classes in them.

The halls in progress.