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Building a Sustainable High School

posted Dec 16, 2019, 5:33 AM by Ryan Palmer   [ updated Jan 10, 2020, 10:18 AM ]

From the beginning our community has been consistent in its desire to build a new High School with sustainable features of energy efficiency, a small carbon footprint and a healthy indoor environment.  The Board of Directors and Building Committee, working with CHA Architecture’s team of architects and engineers, have worked to assure sustainable features are designed and built into the new school, and the voters approved the additional local cost of these features.  The Sustainability and Building Systems Subcommittee, composed of community members, continues to oversee these features in the construction process.

The new School will be heated and cooled through a closed-loop geothermal system comprised of 96 deep water wells that will enable the School to take advantage of the consistent temperature of water deep below the ground to both heat and cool the school with less natural gas (for heating) and less electricity (for cooling).  At the same time, the School will be highly energy efficient with a building envelope that includes additional roof insulation along with triple-glazed windows.

The new school includes additional steel to bear the weight of solar panels across the entire roof.  In the spring of 2019 the Sustainability Subcommittee began a competitive process to select a third-party vendor who will install the solar panels prior to the substantial completion of the building and produce solar energy beginning with the opening of school.  Based on recommendations from the Sustainability Subcommittee and Building Committee, on October 10th the Board of Directors approved entering into a 25-year lease for the solar panels with Maine-based Revision Energy.  There are no costs to the taxpayer for this lease, and the District will see annual savings in electricity of over $40,000 per year on average, or over $1,000,000 during the 25-year term of the lease.  A solar energy “dashboard” located inside the school will provide students with real-time information on energy generation.  There will also be a separate solar domestic hot-water heating system.

Community feedback emphasized the importance of creating a healthy indoor environment conducive to learning.  Plenty of sunlight will bathe the new classrooms and common areas.  Large window-walls will light the cafeteria and Learning Commons.  The architects have selected building materials with low VOCs (volatile organic compounds) to support good indoor air quality.  A robust air-exchange system will assure there is plenty of fresh air in the building.

Quality control is central to this project.  Individuals from both the Department of Education and CHA Architecture, along with independent testing agencies hired by the School District constantly monitor the design and construction process. The project also includes a “commissioning” agent - a third-party engineering firm providing additional oversight into the design, construction and operation of the building to assure the outside envelope is water tight and energy efficient, and the heating and ventilation systems are built and perform to specifications from the first day of school.

Construction continues on time and on budget, and we look forward to opening the new Mt. Ararat High School to those first tours for our four communities who have been unwavering in their support, and engaged in providing the time and feedback needed to construct a facility we can all be proud of.