PARAMUS, NJ – The Khoren and Shooshanig Avedisian School and Community Center, located in the Malatia-Sebastia District of Yerevan, Armenia and operated by the Armenian Missionary Association of America (AMAA), has been awarded a Silver LEED Certification – the first building in the Republic of Armenia to achieve such an award. The School was also awarded the LEED Earth Designation, given only to the very first building project in each developing country to satisfy the USGBC LEED criteria.
LEED, (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an ecology-oriented building certification program run under the sponsorship of the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), headquartered in Washington, DC. According to Mahesh Ramanujam, President and CEO of the USGBC, “the LEED Certification identifies the AMAA Avedisian School as a showcase example of sustainability and demonstrates the AMAA’s leadership in transforming the building industry. The USGBC congratulates the AMAA Avedisian School on earning the LEED Certification and thanks you for your commitment to our common goal of building a healthy, sustainable future.”
The Avedisian School was founded in 1998 as a tuition-free kindergarten for students from economically disadvantaged homes. The new K-12 school complex includes a community center and the Krikor and Beatrice Bilezikian Building; it opened on September 1, 2014. It was the dream of AMAA Benefactor and Board Member Edward Avedisian of Lexington, Mass. to build a school to honor his Genocide survivor parents, Khoren and Shooshanig Avedisian, who had placed an extremely high value on education throughout their lives. The school, with a current enrollment of 552 students and 50 kindergarten students, provides a free education for economically disadvantaged children from the Malatia-Sebastia district. It is operated by the AMAA and conforms to the standard of education as set forth by the Armenian Ministry of Education.
“The idea of the Avedisian School and Community Center came from the American and German missionaries working in Western Armenia who provided free tuition and board for students during the mid-19th and 20th centuries,” said Avedisian. “My mother was one of those fortunate enough to receive this education. We decided to bring that same concept to the present but with an ultra-modern building based on sustainable energy in the Yerevan Valley where pollution was out of control and high incidences of cancer had been noted for many years. After being invited to a meeting with the United Nations Development Program in New York, our sustainable energy expert, Armen Gharibyan, and I were provided funding to visit the new UN European Headquarters Building in Copenhagen to see if we could get some new ideas from their massive ecological masterpiece. As it turned out, Armen knew at least as much as their experts, and we returned to Yerevan with renewed confidence in the project. Today, the Avedisian School’s new approach to building using sustainable energy has captivated both the government and the public so much so that an entire industry is growing rapidly and providing many good paying jobs for those working in the industry. What started as a small step to the future, combined with over 300 sunny days a year in Armenia, provides the catalyst for Armenia to achieve over 50 percent of its energy needs in the next 10 years. That, I am confident, will be another first in the world. A major benefit will be a great reduction in cancer rates since the carbon dioxide reduction will provide for much reduced pollution. Add to that the joy of seeing Ararat for most of the daylight hours will make my day and yours for sure.”
Joseph Zeronian, Ed.D., former President of the AMAA Board of Directors during the building of the Avedisian School in 2014, said, “It is gratifying to see the Avedisian School gaining honors in the motherland. The School has met and exceeded the hopes and dreams of its founders and the Board of the AMAA that endorsed its establishment.”
The Avedisian School’s building team included Senior Technical Advisor/Architect Ronald Altoon, Architect Isahak Nersisyan, Construction Manager Faraj Yeretsian, LEED Consultant/Solar Energy Design and Implementation Consultant Dr. Armen Gharibyan, LEED Consultant AJB Inc., Conservation Advisor Dr. Kenell Touryan, AMAA, LEED and USGBC Liaison Richard Youatt and Legal Counsels Peter Kougasian, Esq. and Jeanmarie Papelian, Esq.
“From start to finish, this was a concerted team effort,” said Altoon. “Every role was essential, every challenge met head on. Armenia, under the Soviet system, was unaccustomed to addressing environmental or sustainable design issues so we were faced with many challenges. When Mr. Avedisian approached me about working on this project, I suggested that we accept the challenge to design the School to become LEED Certified. This was not an easy task to be sure. Mr. Avedisian became the champion of the LEED Certification goal. He advocated for this to the AMAA Board and sustained his commitment throughout the process. After our very challenging LEED journey, we have fulfilled our original vision. Not only have we achieved LEED Silver, but also LEED Earth.”
“The LEED Certification shows how the Avedisian School fits into the global sustainability movement and how the AMAA is an important innovator and leader not only within Armenia but within the region and globally,” said Youatt. “Mr. Avedisian played a very important role in the transformation from the immediate post-Soviet era to the present. His broad vision for rebuilding Armenia’s entire educational system and his early focus on LEED Certification were visionary at a time when Yerevan was ‘on its knees’ with water and energy shortages.”
The school’s construction process introduced a new construction culture in Armenia by keeping all of the local and international environmental laws and standards. The school achieved LEED credits for meeting requirements of applying efficient heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, introducing a unique system of solar hot water, using proper polyurethane thermal insulation levels, applying efficient LED lighting and a proper architectural design with correctly selected windows and walls. The school also used light colors on the roof, developed lots of green areas which reflect the solar irradiation as nature, installed rainfall collection areas underground, recycled concrete waste to make concrete tiles and used environmentally friendly materials for finishing, indoor air quality and natural lighting.
“The Avedisian School is a source of great pride for the AMAA in Armenia for many reasons,” said Dr. Nazareth Darakjian, President of the AMAA’s Board of Directors. “The standard of education is very high in comparison to other schools in the area and the School provides an education tuition free in an area that houses families with modest means. Almost all of the graduates have pursued higher education in the local colleges and universities. At the same time, the Avedisian School building serves as a lesson to Armenia’s architects and designers on how to build a structure that is beautiful and yet efficient in the use of energy and natural resources. This is of utmost strategic importance for a country that must import sources of energy from other countries. Our congratulations and special thanks to Ed Avedisian and Ron Altoon for this accomplishment.”
Funding for the LEED Certification process was generously provided to the AMAA by the John Mirak Foundation of Massachusetts. The Mirak family’s foundation has committed to preserving Armenia by funding organizations that focus on issues surrounding the environment, the welfare of children, autism, poverty reduction and education at all levels.
“When we were approached by Ed to help fund the new school, he gave us several naming opportunities,” said Julia Mirak, Trustee of the John Mirak Foundation. “Many of them involved funding infrastructure or playing fields, but the idea of funding the LEED Certification process was immediately attractive to us. Not only would it help the current students and faculty by providing a more inviting atmosphere in which to learn and teach, but the systems that were being proposed would enhance the neighborhood for generations to come. Our family is proud to have been able to help make the school a beacon in Armenia for sustainability, energy conservation, pollution control and environmental education and responsibility.”
The Armenia Tree Project (ATP), an organization headquartered in Watertown, Massachusetts that has been working to protect Armenia’s environment since 1994, also collaborated on the environmental education curriculum at the Avedisian School which helped secure the LEED Certification. One of the school’s projects funded by the ATP has been the green roof gardens which feature grasses, trees and vegetables planted atop the building which provide insulation, lower heating and cooling costs. It is also used as a hands-on teaching tool for conservation as the students help care for the plants and observe their growth.
“My first visit to the Avedisian School was in 2009 when I visited the old campus in Malatia-Sepastia,” said Papelian. “Despite the challenges posed by the unfortunate state of the building, Avedisian School principal Melanya Geghamyan ensured that the students excelled in every area. I also learned on that trip that one of the school’s science teachers had received training on environmental education from the Armenia Tree Project and was incorporating it into her lessons. When I was an AMAA Board member, I was involved with plans for the new campus, and we had many discussions on how to develop a green school. The building itself is a huge component; it had to be environmentally-friendly of course, but Mr. Avedisian and principal Geghamyan also felt that the students should be engaged in learning to preserve and protect the environment.
Today, five years after the new campus opened its doors, we can observe that it truly is a green school. More than 400 trees and shrubs surround the campus, many planted by the students with support from the ATP. Students plant and care for vegetables on one of the school’s green roof areas. They also create compost from cafeteria scraps, recycle paper and compete to see who can make the most creative art from discarded items. The ATP recognizes the Avedisian School as a prominent partner school – whenever ATP wants to pilot a new program or project in its environmental education curriculum, Principal Geghamyan welcomes our educators. And, it is great fun for students to visit ATP’s nursery in Karin Village and plant trees each spring. It is fitting that the Avedisian School has received the first LEED Certification in the region. It sets the example for how schools can help develop the next generation of environmental stewards. Congratulations to the team who made this certification happen. I am proud to be associated with such a fine institution.”
“The United Nations Development Committee (UNDP) was also impressed by the Avedisian School,” added Youatt. “A site visit by a UNDP representative during the school’s construction and a meeting with Mr. Avedisian left the representative with a very positive impression of the visionary, yet practical, energy efficient design of the Avedisian School. The UNDP subsequently provided some material support for the construction and saw the project as inspirational for other countries and cities addressing similar challenges as those faced by the school.”
The students at The Avedisian School have greatly benefited from the healthy and sustainable environment at the School, where they attend classes in math, language, science, geography, computers, art, music, crafts and physical education. They have excelled in many areas helping the school win many awards, including national chess and debate competitions. The school has also won several prestigious awards including first place in Nationwide Russian Language Competency, first place in Nationwide French Competency and a gold medal for Best School Administration. Since 2015 the Avedisian School has had 62 high school graduates. This year all of the 31 graduates have been admitted to higher educational establishments including American University of Armenia, French University of Armenia Foundation, University of Foreign Languages, Pedagogical University of Armenia, Engineering University of Armenia, Armenian State University of Economics, Armenian Medical University, Armenian Conservatorie, Yerevan State University and Russian-Slavonic University.
“The Avedisian School has also benefited from the LEED Certification in terms of being the most unique environmentally friendly building not only in Armenia but also in the whole South Caucasus Region,” said Geghamyan. “The whole building is an environmental laboratory. The students have been taught how to differentiate between litter and recyclables, classify garbage into special bins for paper, plastic and litter, how to save water, and plant and care for trees and plants due to the green roofs. Because of the LEED Certification and the eco-project implemented at school, the students learn about composting and how significant it is to take advantage of enriching the soil with the principle of ‘zero waste.’”
AMAA-Armenia Representative Harout Nercessian added that “as a Christian organization, the AMAA cares deeply about the environment and protecting God’s land and resources. The Avedisian School and Community Center educates our students about environmental issues both academically and practically and encourages them to adopt eco-friendly habits and promote them among their families and friends. The AMAA’s trailblazing efforts at the Avedisian School have helped promote environmental awareness among the students and serves as an inspirational model to other schools and organizations throughout Armenia.”
“The AMAA salutes the pioneering insight of a remarkable group of project owners and professionals who rose above the cost and construction considerations to be the good stewards of the Creator in securing the LEED Certification and the LEED Earth Designation for the Avedisian School,” said Zaven Khanjian, Executive Director/CEO of the AMAA. “We have been entrusted with the welfare of our planet. The benefactors, the AMAA board and administration and the faculty and students of the Avedisian School are taking good care of Armenia’s ecology while they toil to provide an environmentally sustainable homeland for the enjoyment of generations to come.”