Green Schools-PBFs Make the Grade

The district was interested in an excellent educational environment that would be cost-effective over the 75- to-100-year life of the facility. Green was not a goal, it was a solution!”
Bill Dierdorff, Business Manager with the North Clackamas School DistrictNorth Clackamas High SchoolFinal

“Phenomenal!” exclaims RMI’s co-CEO Amory Lovins when architect Heinz Rudolf, FAIA, tells him about North Clackamas High School’s likely future energy savings.

Amory has good reason to be excited. The school has successfully applied many of the concepts he suggested in its earliest design sessions. Computer and physical modeling of the school predict it will quickly become one of the best green schools in the nation. The total energy saving is expected to beat the Oregon Energy Building Code by 44 percent (and much better than the American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers’ energy code recommendations). The school will save roughly $75,00080,000 annually on its energy bills, and the total capital cost was a mere $118.70 per square foot. Now that it’s open, the structure itself is drawing rave reviews.

“This is an incredible building for students and staff,” said Principal Dean Winder. “The natural light and ventilation brighten everyone’s day. The students have more bounce in their step and smiles on their faces. The parents and community are very proud of what they have done for this generation and generations to come.”

Performance-Based Fees
The North Clackamas High School is unique not only because it is now one of the greenest schools in the nation, but because of the use of performance-based fees (PBFs)one of four projects chosen by RMI to demonstrate their use. As the name implies, PBFs are professional fees in which the savings derived from highly-efficient design become part of the compensation package for designersthe greater the savings in electricity, natural gas, liquid fuels, and other resources, the more the architects and engineers earn.

The North Clackamas High School project began in the mid-1990s and involved numerous entities, including RMI, BOORA Architects, CBG Engineers, Eley Associates, The ENSAR Group, Portland General Electric, the Energy Foundation, and, of course, the school district. North Clackamas educators had heard about the effects of natural lighting and ventilation on student and teacher performance, and investigated.

“The district was not interested in green design for its own sake,” said Bill Dierdorff, Business Manager with the North Clackamas School District. “The district was interested in an excellent educational environment that would be cost-effective over the 75- to-100-year life of the facility. Green was not a goal, it was a solution!”

With funding from the Energy Foundation, RMI worked closely with Eley Associates to create a set of PBF guidelines. PBFs aren’t rocket science, but using them requires considerable foresight and planning. “The value of starting early cannot be overemphasized,” wrote Charles Eley, AIA, PE, of Eley Associates in the primer Energy Performance Contracting for New Buildings. “Retrofits and late design changes are usually limited to HVAC equipment selection, lighting equipment changes, and possibly glass type. These measures save energy, but they have a relatively low rate of return. The most cost-effective measures happen early on and affect characteristics like building orientation, window size and placement, shading, and space planning. Many of these measures cost nearly nothing – sometimes they even cost less than the base case – but each have the potential for saving a lot of energy.”

The School Itself
The 265,355-square-foot building is organized into “bars” along an east-west axis for optimal natural lighting and ventilation. It employs natural and recycled-content materials that follow principles of environmental sensitivity, simplicity and efficiency such as natural linoleum, ceramic and quarry tile, brick, recycled rubber flooring, recycled upholstery, and recycled acoustical tiles. Divided into four academic houses, the building provides small-scale learning environments with emphasis on flexibility, integration of instruction, technology, and spaces for social interaction and community use.

“Because of a tight budget (roughly $29 million), the building orientation, massing, bay-depth, and micro-climate had to be considered from the beginning,” said architect Rudolf, a principle at BOORA Architects of Portland. “The emphasis on high-performance glass and skin permitted a reduction of the mechanical system.”

A DOE-2 computer energy model anticipates annual savings over typical designs of 275,000 kilowatt-hours in lighting, 315,000 kWh in fans and pumps, 150,000 kWh in cooling, and roughly 27,000 therms (27 billion Btus) in heating. The building is complemented with indigenous landscaping. An existing six-acre wetland area was preserved and enhanced; it will be used to retain and purify stormwater runoff.

To test their design ideas about lighting and natural ventilation, the architects and students built two full-scale classroom mockups. The first of these was at the Seattle City Light’s Lighting Design Laboratory, where they were able to hone critical aspects of their daylighting and electric lighting design. The second was built by the students on the site of the new school and used to test natural ventilation components of the heating and cooling design.

Performance-based fees can get badly lost in many building and development project processes, especially when there are many change orders. In this project, however, the PBFs survived and even helped steer the process. The money saved through energy efficiency will be split between the designers and the school 50/50 for the first two years, with the school’s share going into the general fund to offset increasing cost of energy.

“The PBFs were important simply because they allowed us to spend the extra time and effort required to create a first-class school,” added Rudolf. “The extra compensation allows us to do extra research, evaluations, and testing so that we can develop cost-effective systems, especially passive systems. What is equally important is the fact that once a contract for the extra compensation is in place, it serves as tool to commit everyone to accomplish specific goals, as opposed to slightly increasing the professional fees without the specific expectations.” In an aside, Heinz chuckled about how the run-up in energy prices last summer might have a very positive effect on the performance-based fees, and how this has highlighted the importance of energy savings for this project.

According to Physical Plant Director David Church, the school has been a hit locally as well as regionally. Several other school districts are working on high schools with similar technology, including the Salem-Keizer School District and the City of Oregon School District.

“I was surprised at how a building can be so functional and yet beautiful at the same time,” he said. “My impression in talking with both students and the community is they are very pleased with the school. The School Board is pleased as they know this facility was a great bargain and will continue to save operating costs due to its low energy consumption. The press was very positive and did several stories on the school and its green’ aspects.”

Such green or sustainable buildings aren’t just getting noticed in Oregon. Across the country and around the globe they are becoming the norm, not the exception. Recently, Australian architect Glenn Murcutt won the Pritzker Prize for his beautiful and sustainable designs. In his New York Times article
about the award, architecture critic Herbert Muschamp – by no means a champion of green design – noted: “Mr. Murcutt’s selection by the Pritzker jury can be seen as an acknowledgement that sustainability now overrides aesthetic criteria in the urbanizing world.”

While we agree, the new North Clackamas High School project points out very elegantly, as do Mr. Murcutt’s buildings, that sustainability and aesthetics can be quite complementary.

FROM Rocky Mountain Institute newsletter, a Content Partner.

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