School House Rock…and roll?

“It is the spirit of the child that can determine the course of human progress and lead it perhaps even to a higher form of civilization.”  — Maria Montessori

By Scott Boylston

group on porch

Re-using an old building (and installing efficiency retro-fits) can be more sustainable than building a new one, and that’s true even if it means moving that old building (or 8 or 9 of them) across town. So, when the board of directors for the Coastal Empire Montessori Charter School and the school’s principal learned about the Emergent Structures Project, their interest was instantly piqued.

The Coastal Empire Montessori Charter School has been looking for permanent buildings since its inception two years ago. Presently housed in trailers on a 14-acre parcel of property on Buckhalter Road in western Savannah, this fledgling public charter school has its heart set on investing in green architecture.


Architect Patrick Shay discusses building plans with a group of visitors to Stratmore Estates that included several Coastal Empire Montessori school board members, and the school principal Tanya Melville (left).

After a visit to Savannah Gardens two weeks ago with architect Patrick Shay, plans are now underway to either build new structures made of building materials harvested from Savannah Gardens, or to roll several of these buildings in their present state across Savannah, plop them down onto the school’s property, then renovate the buildings for classrooms.

If the latter scenario plays out, the structures would be refurbished to incorporate high efficiency technologies, and designed carefully throughout the landscape to maximize the ‘village’ concept of an open-air-campus.


President of the board, Dr. David Lerch and school principal Tanya Melville explain their vision of the new school campus to documentary film maker Thibaut Fagonde.

Principal Tanya Melville, winner of the 2008 Deana Burgess Outstanding Partner in Teacher Education Award for her work as Educational Director at her previous job, Montessori of Macon, prefers to describe the resulting architecture as Vernacular Funk. While the old building would be fully refurbished, visual access to the buildings structural elements would be provided for the sake of historical reference. Repurposing the building structures to house classrooms in a learning village would allow easy access to nature and the many gardens (edible and otherwise) that are planned for the campus. If the former scenario of using harvested building materials is carried out, plans may revolve around a design that resulted from an earlier design charette with SCAD architecture students.


Preservationist Ramsey Khalidi describes some of the logistics of moving entire historical structures, as documentary film maker Thibaut Fagonde shoots.

In the interest of full disclosure, the relationship between Emergent Structures and Coastal Empire Montessori may not have developed—or would have otherwise taken longer to emerge—if my twin girls, Francesca and Makenzie, had not started attending Coastal Empire Montessori Charter School in Fall 2009. As it turns out, my wife, Kristin, was attending a board meeting when the pressing need for new buildings came up, and she eagerly mentioned the Emergent Structures Project.


The Coastal Empire Montessori Charter School as it appears today.

We’ll keep you updated on progress


  1. Haley Wulfman says

    Wow! The current Montessori site–what an ‘inspiring’ place to get an education, oy!
    Let me just say that the emergent structures project is an absolutely fantastic one, especially at the current moment–a time of extensive discourse on topics of sustainability, renewability, preservation, and environmental consciousness. I so much appreciate a project such as yours that has at its core the goal of utilizing what already exists to make something new, rather than using new to create new. What an idea…
    I have no doubt that the Montessori project will yield brilliant results, especially with their philosophical emphasis on high-quality materials. Emergent structures seems well suited to the job.
    Just stumbled across the project and the blog recently, and am so enthused about the whole thing. I am a long-time advocate of reconstruction. Keep up the good work!!

    Haley Wulfman

    • Scott Boylston says

      Thank you, Haley, for your enthusiasm.
      And the philosophical similarities between our project and the Montessori method couldn’t be more profound, so we’re thrilled to be witness to this alignment of need and supply.

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