Greening the Classroom: K-12 projects dominate sustainability awards
K-12 schools have something new to teach us.
In this year’s USGBC Maryland Community Leader Awards, grade schools accounted for six of the nine finalists. The projects – Crofton High School, Graceland Park/O’Donnell Heights Elementary/Middle School, Havre de Grace Middle/High School, Holabird Academy, Mother Mary Lange Catholic School and Patuxent Valley Middle School – included an array of sustainable features and some standout achievements.
Both Graceland/O’Donnell Heights and Holabird Academy achieved LEED Platinum certification and operate as net zero energy schools. The Baltimore City schools, which have identical, 94,000-square-foot floorplans, have extremely energy-efficient design, insulated concrete form walls, geothermal energy, demand control ventilation with centralized DOAS, a carbon dioxide sensor suite for fresh air, optimized daylighting, and more than 1,300 photovoltaic panels each on their roofs, including demonstration panels that are part of the schools’ STEM education program.
“The most impressive aspect to me was all the PV solar that was put on those buildings,” said Nick Wilson, Associate Principal at MK Consulting Engineers, which worked on both the Holabird and Graceland/O’Donnell projects. “I have worked on hundreds of school projects. Holabird was the first one I had seen with that much PV solar in the Baltimore area.”
Trends in school design indicate that project teams will be seeing more K-12 projects that include infrastructure for rooftop solar and other leading, sustainability features.
“In the K-12 school market, you don’t often see people jump to the front and try something innovative,” Wilson said. “But in the past three years, we have definitely heard more interest in doing PV solar. Now educators from other areas are touring Holabird and Graceland/O’Donnell and getting excited about it. We are doing a couple of projects in Anne Arundel County right now and they have had some talks about beefing up their roof design to support PV solar.”
GWWO Architects has also seen a trend of K-12 clients growing increasingly interested in outfitting new schools with infrastructure that would support rooftop solar, said Gretchen Wagner, Senior Associate. Furthermore, it’s part of a broader trend of K-12 clients seeking and evaluating highly efficient design, net zero energy possibilities, and long-term cost implications of design decisions.
“We’re seeing clients tracking energy and water use in new ways,” Wagner said. “They are pulling and analyzing consumption data across their facilities. There is a big movement where people are understanding quality design as a way to reduce operational costs. They are thinking about energy use intensity [EUI] and how design decisions can lower their lifecycle costs.”
While designing Crofton High School, GWWO worked with the project’s MEP team to do extensive modeling of how choices about building orientation, envelope, window-to-wall ratio, insulation, daylighting and other elements would impact EUI, MEP equipment, project costs and operating costs.
“Ultimately, it’s a balance to deliver quality education spaces that are also very energy efficient,” Wagner said. “We learned a lot of lessons from this project about small changes that can result in equipment and energy savings that we carried into our next projects and lessons about how to perform these analyses and advance the design further.”
While balancing the needs for quality space, high efficiency and manageable budgets depend on thorough analyses and practical measures, sometimes project teams find an artful solution to a design challenge. The design for Crofton High School, which is set in a community park, included large expanses of curtainwall to provide daylighting and views of the beautiful surroundings. But the design team had to balance that design feature with the need to limit solar gain. The solution was fritted glass, designed specifically for that school.
“We designed the pattern to deliver the right solar heat gain coefficient,” Wagner said. “We also looked at biophilic design principles so that the fritted pattern evokes imagery of leaves falling. When sunlight shines through it, a leaf pattern projects onto the school’s floors and creates a natural feel.”