Falk Elementary School Goes Green and Expands

Issue Date: 
September 14, 2009
Pitt’s Falk School during construction of its new green wingPitt’s Falk School during construction of its new green wing

A public ribbon-cutting ceremony including tours and presentations took place at 2 p.m. Sept. 12 to unveil the new green wing at the University of Pittsburgh’s Falk Elementary School.

The new 31,000-square-foot addition—comprising 14 classrooms for Kindergarten through the eighth grade, a computer lab, art studio, cafeteria, science room, library, and support areas—will allow the school to increase its student and faculty population. Enrollment is currently 310, more than a 10 percent increase from last year, and the school is planning a population of 403 students by the year 2012.

“When I arrived at the University nearly five years ago, my first meeting regarded the proposed expansion of the Falk School,” said Wendell McConnaha, school director.  “Fast forward to today, and the end result is a building with green standards designed to reflect the unique nature of a laboratory school.”

Speakers at the event included McConnaha; Tony Petrosky, associate dean in Pitt’s School of Education; Robert Pack, Pitt vice provost for academic planning and resources management; Sigo Falk, son of the founders of the school, and his daughter-in-law, Dorothy Falk.

A portion of the original Falk School was demolished and rebuilt to accommodate the new wing. All salvage was donated to Construction Junction, a Point Breeze architectural salvage company, and all materials used in the renovation meet requirements for being LEED certified. The architectural firm for the $20.3 million project was Perkin Eastman Architects PC, which also is renovating the existing building, a project expected to be complete by March 2010.

Other green components of the school include a “living” roof that will absorb 80 percent of rainwater. Plants on a “living” roof filter the air, improving air quality by using excess carbon dioxide to produce oxygen. Low-flow toilets and urinals in the restrooms and motion sensors on the faucets will decrease water usage. Most rooms also are equipped with air-exchange systems that draw cool air into the building and push warm air out. The Governor’s Drive entrance was reconstructed to enhance student safety during carpool drop-offs and pick-ups.

Notable Falk graduates include Rob Marshall, Broadway choreographer and director of the movies Chicago (2002) and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005); his sister Kathleen Marshall, Broadway choreographer and director and winner of Tony Awards for choreographing Wonderful Town (2004) and The Pajama Game (2006); John Rogers, the son of Fred Rogers of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood; and Jonathan and Peter Salk, children of polio vaccine pioneer and Pitt researcher Jonas Salk.

“When I first toured the school in 1996, I remember thinking that the teachers were doing amazing things in spite of such limited facilities,” said Dorothy Falk. “As a Falk School board member and parent of three current Falk students, I know firsthand the excellent education that the school provides. It’s so rewarding to see that the building itself reflects the quality of the program within it,” she said.

Founded in 1931, Falk Elementary School was a gift to the University of Pittsburgh from Leon Falk Jr. and his sister, Marjorie Falk Levy, in honor of their mother, Fanny Edel Falk. It is the only American laboratory school to have a legal charter that stipulates its purpose and function. The original charter designated the school as a progressive and experimental school for demonstration purposes. In 1946, the charter was amended to include practice teaching as one of the school’s functions.

Falk School’s teachers and interns are Pitt education faculty and students. The school is committed to the development of excellence in education through five types of scholarly activity: research, experimentation, clinical teaching experiences, curriculum development, and staff development.

For more information about the new addition, contact Marian Vollmer at 412-624-8671 or mayv@pitt.edu.