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Trends in Green

Customized Green Strategies

Telling your story through green design.

Every school design tells a story. Architects use exterior materials to reflect the character of the surrounding neighborhood. School interiors are arranged based on the needs of the educational curriculum. Logos, slogans and school colors are prominently displayed to enhance student and faculty pride. However, it is important to remember the green design options should also refl ect the vision, values and character of your educational community.

There are many different ways to tell your story through green design. The types of energy-efficient strategies you select are one obvious consideration. Sustainable solutions are different in the state of Washington than they are in Washington, D.C. But when planning new construction or renovations, you should also take into account all aspects of education and operations, including the integration of green design and educational goals.

Eco-charrettes and energy models

As with all aspects of the planning process, customizing sustainable strategies must start with a dialogue between all stakeholders. Many owners and design teams choose to participate in an eco-charrette that serves to clarify expectations and potential options. The eco-charrette works likes a traditional charrette. Owner representatives and members of the design team come together to address sustainable goals and analyze tradeoffs and potential costs. Topics to address include: water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, sustainable sites and indoor environmental quality. Such a collaborative session allows the team to analyze green design solutions in the context of the specific challenges facing your educational community.

While the eco-charrette addresses big picture issues, the specifics of your sustainable strategies are developed through a comprehensive energy model. The model allows you to see your story unfold in advance. By using the model to explore a variety of strategies, you are able to see the impact of solutions on projected energy usage and future energy costs. Building orientation, system selection and natural lighting strategies are just some of the options analyzed through the energy model.

Aligning green strategies with educational goals

Part of telling your story through green design involves customization based on educational goals. For example, it is important to balance the impact of glazing on heating and cooling loads with the benefits of natural light on the learning process. Students in rooms with high levels of natural light progress faster on Math and English benchmark tests, by as much as 26 percent. In addition, research connects proper visual development to the ability to regularly view objects at different distances. Students’ eyes feel more relaxed if they are able to look at the outside world throughout the day. Often, this information results in owners choosing to include direct natural lighting in 100 percent of classrooms.

Another factor to consider is indoor air quality, which has been proven to reduce absentee rates among students and staff. Attendance is one of the strongest predictors of success in the classroom.

The building as a teaching tool

One of the most powerful ways to express your school’s vision is through the use of green design strategies which function as teaching tools. In many schools, green design elements are a seamless part of the overall fabric of the campus. In some cases, this takes the form of energy dashboards that allow students to monitor energy usage and the output of on-site renewable energy systems. In other cases, schools use rain gardens as outdoor labs for project-based learning opportunities.

When it comes to the use of the building as teaching tool, the options are limited only by your imagination. At Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School in Washington, D.C., exposed building systems are color coded, allowing students to see how the school works as they walk the halls. Across the city, Woodrow Wilson High School features a complex greenhouse that is integrated with the school’s science curricula. Called the EcoLab, the greenhouse allows science students to recreate any ecosystem on earth and engage in creative environmental studies.

Every aspect of your school facility should refl ect the goals and character of your educational community. Green design solutions are no different. Through careful planning, and a little creativity, you can create buildings that are energy-efficient, educationally appropriate and exciting places to learn. SPM

This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of School Planning & Management.

About the Author

Terrance R. Liette, PE, LEED-AP, tliette@fhai.com, is the director of Engineering for Fanning Howey.