With a Focus on Sustainability, School Revamp Provides Hope in a Food Desert

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Every year, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) hosts their Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, bringing together industry professionals, architects, designers, and sustainability experts from around the world. At the same time, they award an initiative that leaves a lasting impact on the host city of the expo with a Greenbuild Legacy Project grant, supporting projects across the country that aim to transform communities through design and enable prosperous environments to improve the quality of life.

In honor of their 2023 expo in Washington, D.C., the USGBC selected Gensler’s “Roots to Success” initiative at Kelly Miller Middle School (KMMS) in D.C.’s Ward 7 as the Greenbuild Legacy Project of the year, representing a beacon of hope in a low-income neighborhood facing the challenges of food deserts.

Wards 7 and 8, predominantly populated by a 90% Black community, face challenges in education, food accessibility, resources, and the built environment. Kelly Miller Middle School resides in a food desert, where nutritious and affordable food options are scarce. The Roots to Success project tackles these systemic issues, establishing a sustainable and accessible food system within the community. Gensler D.C.’s dedication to closing the educational and resource gap is evident through its longstanding partnership with KMMS, dating back to 2020.

The Greenbuild Legacy Project grant enabled the Roots to Success team to transform two existing spaces into functional, sustainable areas for learning and engagement. The first space was the school’s on-site student urban farm, in which Gensler and its partner, HITT, installed raised garden beds, a shed, and a beautifully designed outdoor pergola with seating. The space provides a hands-on learning experience, educating students about the benefits of sustainable farming and organic gardening practices and enriching the science curriculum across all academic levels. An emphasis on the life cycle of food, from seed to soil to shelf, inspires students and educates them on critical topics such as environmental justice, carbon reduction, net zero waste, and sustainable design.

The second part of the project included a revamp of the school’s cafeteria, incorporating new composting and recycling facilities, integrated food sustainability education, a mural painted by local artists No Kings Collective using paint donated by Benjamin Moore, and sustainably sourced or upcycled furniture by Price Modern and Haworth. Since the refresh, Principal Cox reports that the number of students eating lunch at school has increased, and the number of food fights has dropped to zero, empowering students to feel pride in their space and community.

Kelly Miller Middle School has become a model for neighboring schools and communities and Roots to Success stands as a testament to the power of partnerships and visionary design. By connecting students to the outdoors, providing fresh produce, and giving access to healthy food education, we are changing student outcomes one community at a time.

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Caitlin Parker
As an architect in Gensler's Lifestyle practive, Caitlin finds joy in projects that promote lifelong learning in their communities and bring positive change to the public experience. She cares about resilient design and is always looking for ways to integrate sustainable systems into her project work. Caitlin is based in Washington, D.C. Contact her at .
Meredith Flanagan
As the Office Experience Manager for Gensler Washington, D.C., Meredith uses her vast network of industry contacts, creativity, and attention to detail to produce unforgettable meetings and celebrations. Contact her at .
Theresa Sheils
Theresa is the Co-Regional Managing Principal of Gensler’s Asia Pacific and Middle East (APME) region. She is a proponent of sustainable design and is adept at developing high-performance design solutions that use leading technology to reduce energy use and mitigate negative effects on the environment. Theresa’s portfolio spans notable international projects in the areas of hospitality, corporate headquarters and education, among others. Contact her at .