The playground at Umatilla-Morrow Head Start's Victory Square Center in Hermiston doesn't have a slide. There's no swing, monkey bars or any play structure.

Instead, children have a sandbox, plastic paint easels and a grass hill - and they absolutely love it, said Head Start Operations Director Penny Gibbs.

"We just feel that the structures aren't needed," she said, adding the school pursued a more natural setting in their place. "You don't have to have a piece of equipment to play outside."

The area also serves another purpose. It's one of several features at the building that earned it a Green Globes rating for sustainable design earlier this year - the only building in Oregon to hold that honor so far.

Dan Daltoso, associate director of operations at Head Start, said the building's architect wanted to expand into a more "green" design when planning for the facility. When Head Start learned about the Green Globes system, they decided to go for it, he said.

"It really got us thinking as an agency as far as what we can do to be more environmentally friendly," Daltoso said. "It was just perfect timing for the both of us."

The Green Globes rating system is operated through the Portland-based Green Building Initiative, which first brought the program to the United States about three years ago, said Mark Rossolo, a local outreach director for the organization. It works comparably to the more commonly known Leadership in Environmental Design certification, or LEED, he said.

"Green Globes is very similar to LEED in what it attempts to do, and that's to build a building on a sustainable design from a very holistic approach," Rossolo said. "A green building is the end goal."

Rossolo said Green Globes differs from LEED in taking a more interactive approach to certification, however. Building plans are submitted through an online program, which then offers suggestions for further improvement, he said.

Green Globes operates on a rating scale of 1-4 - like LEED - with 4 being the highest. Victory Square Center earned a score of 2.

Only 35 buildings in the country have earned the Green Globes recognition so far, Rossolo said. Head Start's facility remains the first and only in Oregon.

The Hermiston pre-school's green design becomes apparent as soon as visitors walk into the main entrance. Large windows tower on all sides of the main hallway, allowing for plenty of natural light without using as much electricity. Light-reflecting shelves installed near the top of some windows further brighten some spaces.

The building's three classrooms draw heat from nylon-made "wind sock" vent ducts with holes throughout. The design heats a room more evenly and efficiently than a closed metal duct funneling through one vent, Daltoso said.

Victory Square Center often keeps a layer of frost on its roof longer than other buildings around it - a testament to its structurally insulated roof panels that insulate the building better and keep heat from leaking out in cold weather, Daltoso said.

In all, the building cost about $1.2 million to build. But the environmentally conscious design made several grants possible that alleviated the burden on Head Start, Daltoso said.

"We have to rely on grant money," he said. Although the cost of efficiency is generally more up front, it can save on energy costs later, he added. The building's extra features allows it to use an estimated 10-20 percent less energy than it otherwise would, Daltoso said.

Daltoso and Gibbs both said they consider the new building an example for Eastern Oregon, where such designs are rare. Teachers and students have transitioned well into Victory Square Center this school year, and Head Start plans to consider similar technologies in remodeling its other existing facilities, Daltoso said.

"Hopefully more people will follow," Gibbs said.

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