Green

Project Frog leaps ahead with $5.2M for greener school buildings

Pre-fabricated buildings have come a long way. Far from shoddy double-wides delivered by flat-bed trucks, they have become the hallmark of the green building movement, tricked out with natural lighting, ventilation and organic materials. One company, Project Frog, is wagering that — in addition to being eco-friendly — these buildings can actually improve student performance in schools. And it just raised more money to prove its point.

According to a filing with the SEC, the San Francisco-based construction company has brought in $5.2 million of an expected $5.5 million round of debt financing and convertible promissory notes. This is the second time it has raised money in its three year history, having brought in $8 million from RockPort Capital Partners in November 2008. [Update: Greener Capital Partners, a Berkeley, Calif.-based firm led the recent round.]

As one of the most exciting companies in the green building industry (it was named best cleantech company at the 2009 Crunchies awards), Project Frog advances an interesting and promising theory — that environmentally-conscious building practices, usually associated with sacrifices in comfort, can actually enhance quality of life and productivity.

On its web site, the company lists characteristics its buildings share, including improved air quality and abundant daylight, more recycled materials, a 50 to 75 percent reduction in energy use, low waste production, short construction timelines (six months, typically), 50 to 75 percent lower operation costs and 25 to 40 percent lower purchase costs. All of its buildings are guaranteed to meet the highest of efficiency and green certification standards.

In combination, these features have been shown to buoy test scores, improve cognitive processing and collaborative skills in young children, stave off fatigue, and reduce illness among students and faculty, the company says.

This sounds all well and good, but two things make Project Frog’s offerings truly special: First, its price points. Usually introducing advanced technology, particularly green features, into projects makes them more expensive. The opposite is true of the company’s buildings, which are not only cheaper to make (pre-made components are snapped together), but can be built to fit specific budgets — a very important criterion for cash-strapped school districts.

Second, its buildings are highly customizable. The team at Project Frog is eager to work hand-in-hand with its clients to make sure finished products accommodate all of its clients’ needs. How many students will be in a room? How do teachers like the configure the desks? These concerns are addressed in the architecture.

Project Frog has three major projects in different stages right now. In Bayside, Calif., it’s replacing the portable trailers on the Jacoby Creek Charter School’s 6-acre campus to provide space for more students. The school district received a grant from the state of California to pay for the construction. In Hartford Connecticut, Project Frog will be building three connected, energy-neutral science classrooms for the Watkinson School.

And lastly, the company’s crowning accomplishment is the new Crissy Field Center located on the waterfront in San Francisco. The building — made out of salvaged redwood, recycled paper and bamboo fiber — will showcase sustainable building practices and serve as home for environmental education programs for young people. Project Frog says it is one of the most energy efficient buildings in the country, complete with classrooms, a science lab and an art room in addition to a visitor information area. It will be hosting an open house on Feb. 6.

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