High Performance Schools – It's a No-Brainer!

Editor’s Note: School districts across the U.S. are modernizing, spending $56 billion on capital improvements from 1998-2000. With booming enrollments and an aging infrastructure, estimates top $300 billion needed to renovate and build new schools (Building Operating Management: New Generation of Schools, 3/02).

by Mike Nicklaus
Smith Middle SchoolFinal

When the Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board decided to appropriate the funds for the 129,000 square foot Smith Middle School, they also made another decision. That decision, made before a line was drawn on the design, was that the school would be naturally daylit, would capture the rainwater from its roof for irrigation and flushing toilets and would feature a solar hot water heating system and a solar electric (PV) system.

Rarely do designers concerned with sustainability enjoy this level of commitment from an owner – although the project still had to fit in the district’s $13.5 million budget. But to me, this commitment highlights a very significant trend – more and more school boards, superintendents and school staff across the country are embracing the concepts of sustainability.

As school decision makers become more knowledgeable about green, high performance, sustainable school concepts, their appreciation of the benefits also increases. As school officials are learning, daylit, sustainable schools do save money. These schools are also healthier, more comfortable learning environments, which – according to a number of studies – results in decreased absenteeism and increased productivity as measured by higher standardized test scores. And, most importantly, they are, in themselves, teaching tools for sustainability.

Resources for High Performance Schools

High Performance Schools: 30 minute video developed for school board members and superintendents. Presents the reasons why school systems should consider sustainable design features and highlights a number of schools across the country.
To order: www.ases.org (click on Publications).

Energy Design Guidelines for High Performance Schools. Practical sustainable design features that should be considered by school architects and engineers. Written in a language common to designers and school staff involved in planning schools.
To order: www.energysmartschools.gov

Sustainable Schools: Supporting Your Educational Mission. Each of the six sections addresses the reasons why a school system should consider designing a sustainable school: reducing operating costs; buildings that teach sustainability; improving academic performance; protecting our environment; designing for health, safety & comfort; and supporting community values.
Download free: www.innovativedesign.net

We developed the daylighting design to provide natural daylight two-thirds of the school day in all major spaces in the one-story building. Using a strategy of south-facing roof monitors supplemented by light-shelves, we incorporated daylighting into the classrooms, media center, cafeteria and gymnasium. The is that the lights are off most of the day and the peak cooling load is reduced by over 100 tons of air conditioning. At a net cost of $92,000, the school district should recoup the cost of the entire daylighting design in 3-4 years.

The roof monitors are designed with translucent baffles that eliminate any direct beam radiation from entering the spaces and uniformly distribute the light without creating glare. Exterior, anodized aluminum lightshelves are integrated into windows located to each side of the south-facing classrooms. Interior blinds supplement the lightshelf design by bouncing the south light to the ceilings and walls. To enhance the amount of light that enters the roof monitors, a white, single-ply roofing membrane reflects additional light through the clear, double-glazed apertures. The size of the apertures is equal to 10-12 percent of the floor area. Inside the classrooms, light-colored walls (60-70% reflectance) and ceilings maximize the benefit of the sunlight.

Rainwater Catchment System
Every day in the U.S., we withdraw 340 billion gallons of fresh water from our streams, reservoirs and wells – an amount equal to 1000 gallons per person per day. What the Chapel Hill School System knew was they could their part to address this non-sustainable consumption pattern by simply collecting and using the rainwater that falls on the roof of their school.

A 100,000 gallon underground precast concrete storage tank that is tied into a simple gravity-based, rooftop collection system gathers rainwater. Pumps then transfer the water to toilets and urinals or the play field irrigation system. None of the water is used for potable purposes, and a separate plumbing system backed up by city water is used to feed the toilets and urinals. Filtration and chlorination systems guarantee adequate water quality.

Although the catchment system cost $220,000, its installation mitigated the need for $50,000 retention pond. The catchment system saves over 2.6 million gallons of water a year. In addition, an outdoor educational exhibit that shows water savings reminds students of their school’s contribution to saving water.

Solar Water Heating & PV Systems
Recognizing the potential for using the school’s sustainable design features as teaching tools, the school system wanted the design to incorporate a solar water heating system and a PV system, as much as for the educational benefits as for the energy savings.

The 256 square foot water heating system is mounted on the back side of a north-facing roof monitor and is used to preheat water for the cafeteria. The system provides about one-third of the school’s hot water needs.

To increase visibility of the PV system, the 2 kW array is integrated into the covered walkway at the bus drop-off. The system, which incorporates batteries, generates electricity for lighting the canopy and the adjacent site lighting.

Teaching Sustainability
Historically, schools have been designed as learning environments that focus on creating functional spaces that meet basic educational needs. With varying degrees of success, these schools address cost, function, aesthetics and comfort. But for decades, school designers have been missing a great opportunity – making schools, in themselves, teaching tools.

Smith Middle School is clearly a building that teaches sustainability. From the time students get off their bikes at the school’s door, they recognize that this school is different. The daylighting, the rainwater catchment systems, the solar systems and the many green products have all been designed to be obvious t
o the kids, encouraging them to ask questions. The students also recognize exactly what the school board wanted them to recognize – that these features represent values that are important – important enough to be included in their school.

Mike Nicklaus is Chair of the American Solar Energy Society and a Principal with Innovative Design in Raleigh, NC.
Contact him: nicklaus@innovativedesign.net

FROM Solar Today, a SustainableBusiness.com Content Partner

Also see: National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities

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