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Feature Story - April 2007

Choosing Green

Private Schools across Region Make Sustainable Design Moves

by Diane Greer

Private schools throughout the region are embracing sustainable building practices to create healthy learning environments and attract students and donors – a trend that is generating various new construction projects with a green tint.

Sustainability is becoming a resonant topic for many private schools that are seeking to expand and improve facilities, says Myra McGovern, spokesperson for the National Association of Independent Schools. 

“At the intersection of these two trends you see a huge growth in the number of green schools being built,” McGovern adds.

For instance, sustainability and green building are guiding a new project at the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the Bronx, says Terry de Guzman, the school’s CFO and COO. The $75 million project, set for completion this year, includes a 45,000-sq-ft middle school, 52,000-sq-ft athletic complex, and renovations to existing facilities.

The project team is aiming for silver-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification through features such as a green roof, says Sandy Polsak, senior project manager at New York-based Levien & Co., the owner’s representative for Fieldston. The school selected architects and contractors based on their experience with green building, Polsak says.

Similarly, at the Princeton Charter School in Princeton, sustainability and environmental concerns became priorities for the board of directors when it was formulating the school’s master plan and designing a new 17,000-sq-ft athletics complex with art and performance spaces, says Michael Farewell, partner at Farewell, Mills, Gatsch Architects of Princeton, the school’s architect.

Princeton Charter will seek LEED certified status for the project, which starts this year and is set to finish in the winter of 2008 to 2009.

The school is located on the edge of the Princeton Ridge, a significant geological and ecological highland.

“Because of the location, the new building has to be highly responsive to the environment,” Farewell says.

As a result, the design works with the natural hydrological cycle of the ridge, using roof shapes and cisterns to collect stormwater runoff and route it through a series of irrigation channels.

Design Edge for Private Schools    

Private schools may have an advantage in planning and designing green facilities over their public counterparts because independent governance processes allow them to be more nimble, McGovern says.

Bureaucracy and the public bidding process in public schools can make it harder to design sustainable schools, adds Ralph Walker, project architect at Gensler, a San Francisco-based architect with New York offices.

“It is difficult to pull off high levels of sustainability and allow for the level of flexibility in the construction process required by the public bidding process,” Walker says.

That cumbersome process extends to the difficulty of integrating a facility’s green elements into the school curriculum, Walker says. And unlike public schools, in private institutions, the people involved in financing the school are also involved in school operational and curricular decisions, he adds.

St. Philip's Academy, a private K-8 school in Newark, provides an illustration for how a school can incorporate sustainable design practices into the physical structure and the curriculum. Gensler led the design team.

The school’s decision to build green grew out of the planning process to relocate to a 52,000-sq-ft, five-story manufacturing building. The $15.7 million project, which wrapped up in February, also added a 15,000-sq-ft gymnasium, play areas, and a parking lot, according to school officials.

The school’s board of trustees decided that building green fits into the nature and mission of the school while also offering fundraising opportunities, according to David Farrand, the board’s president.

Based on the planning discussions, the team identified a dozen ways to incorporate sustainable design into the curriculum and the building, Gensler’s Walker says.

A new green roof atop the gymnasium illustrates that crossover between the design and the curriculum. The feature, which stands on 7-ft-deep steel trusses in the gym roof, will serve as the school’s outdoor environmental center for academic purposes.

In addition, vegetables and herbs grown on the roof will be used in the cafeteria. Even food waste from the cafeteria will be made into compost bricks for the garden.

“They have a fully integrated, closed-looped cycle that they can teach in science classes and is also fully integrated into the building,” Walker says.

Fieldston also has a green roof on its middle school and is incorporating it into its curriculum. Probes and a weather station permit students to measure the roof’s effects on the building and surrounding environment. Similar equipment is installed on a conventional roof for comparison purposes.

Courses will teach how the building’s green features work, including a cistern that recycles water and waterless urinals. An exposed wall section will exhibit the composition of the building envelope.

Green Notes on Private Schools

Ethical Culture Fieldston School

Selected Sustainable Features:
• Green roofs, one of which is a garden terrace accessible to students and teachers
• Establishment of teaching curriculum to understand benefits of green roofs and then compare them to adjacent nongreen roofs
• Cistern to capture rainwater for use in irrigation and maintenance; waterless urinals
• Smart technology to monitor heating and cooling systems
• Stone quarried from site used on exterior; use of porous asphalt
• Low-e glass glazing to reduce energy consumption
• Green materials made from either recycled content or renewable resources.

Project Profile
Cost: $75 million
Scope: 45,000-sq-ft middle school, 38,000-sq-ft gymnasium, 14,000-sq-ft swimming facility, 30,000 sq ft of renovation
Start: 2004
Finish: Pool and gym in January; middle school in May; renovations in August.

Key Players:
Owner's Representative: Levien & Co., New York
Architect: Cooper Robertson & Partners, New York
Construction Manager for New Buildings: Tishman Construction, New York
Construction Manager for Renovations: Stamack Construction, New York

St Philip’s Academy

Selected Sustainable Features:
• Green roof over gymnasium, reflective energy-efficient roof on existing facility
• Reduce water usage by 20% with low-flow toilets, urinals, showerheads, faucets, kitchen equipment
• Energy-efficient building mechanical systems that operate at least 20% above baseline standards
• Recycling of more than 50% of construction waste
• 25% of building materials with at least 20% postconsumer recycled content
• Meeting or exceeding state indoor air-quality standards
• Daylight in 90% of usable space
• Low emitting vapors from adhesives, sealants, paints, carpet, and composite wood.

Project Profile
Cost: $22 million
Scope: 52,000 sq ft renovated; 15,000-sq-ft new gymnasium
Start: October 2005
Finish: Renovations in January; gymnasium in February.

Key Players:
Owner's Representative: Richard McElhiney Architect, New York
Architect: Gensler, San Francisco
Landscape Architect: MKW & Associates, Rutherford, N.J.
General Contractor: Structure Tone, New York
Structural Engineer: DiStasio & Van Buren, Mountainside, N.J.
M-E-P: John Weisgerber, Morristown, N.J.

Princeton Charter School

Selected Sustainable Features:
• Cisterns capture rainwater for use in irrigation and water use reduction
• Daylighting systems and design
• Reduction of heat from roofing and impervious nonroof surface
• Use of recycled and salvaged materials; certified wood; low-VOC paints and carpets.

Project Profile
Cost: $5 million to $6 million
Scope: 17,000 sq ft
Start: Summer 2007
Finish: Winter 2008-2009

Key Players:
Architect & Project Management: Farewell Mills Gatsch Architects, Princeton, N.J.
Structural Engineer: Harrison-Hamnett, Pennington, N.J.
M-E-P Engineer: AKF Engineers, Princeton
Acoustical Consultant: Shen Milsom & Wilke, New York
Civil Engineer: B2A Consultants, Hillsborough, N.J.

A Healthy Learning Environment      

Another common priority of private school green designs is to create a healthy learning environment.

To ensure good indoor air quality, the schools use organic compound paints and materials. They also incorporate systems for fresh air circulation.

Minimizing energy consumption is also important. St. Philip's employs an induction system to heat classrooms, which instead of using motors, washes natural airflow up through risers and into rooms. Return grills on the opposite walls draw the air across rooms, Walker says.

The gymnasium uses a perimeter radiant system that heats the building envelope. Ventilation then moves heated air into the remainder of the space.

At Princeton Charter, the building’s location and design aim to optimize daylighting with features such as north-facing windows providing light for art activities and clear-story windows illuminating the gymnasium.

The healthy environment extends to the school’s interaction with the community, which often becomes an important component of the design process, Farewell says.

“These are real community projects,” he adds. “People are invested in them and they are participatory. It is a wonderful process for making a building.”

Walker conducted presentations for St. Philip's parents to explain the design, budget, and curriculum integration with the project’s green elements.

 “There are huge advantages for private schools to go green,” Walker adds. “You create a great environment for the kids, you attract new donors, and you bring in new opportunities the school might not have had previously.”

During fund-raising meetings for the Princeton project, the response to sustainable features has been strong, Farewell says.

“People feel that this is a very important thing to do architecturally in terms of using site resources,” he adds.

At Fieldston, the donor community is also highly supportive of green building.

“Clearly, people have stepped up to make sure that these green initiatives are funded,” de Guzman says.

LEED Leaders: Private Schools Taking on Sustainable Projects

The Children's School, Stamford

Description: Independent primary school for children ages 3 to 8.
Scope: New 14,000-sq-ft, 1-story building to replace existing facility
Construction Manager: Viking Construction, Stamford
Architect: Thompson Associates, Cambridge, Mass.
LEED Status: Seeking LEED certified
Start: May 2006
Finish: June 2007
Sustainable features: The building, which is constructed of natural and sustainable materials, makes use of daylighting, passive solar heating, and natural ventilation to reduce energy costs. Sustainable design features leveraged as teaching tools include a stormwater collection system, gardens, and weather station.

Millbrook School, Millbrook, N.Y.

Description: College preparatory boarding school
Scope: New 25,000-sq-ft Math and Science Center
Cost: $12 million
Construction Manager: Kirchhoff Construction Management, Poughkeepsie
Architect: Voith and Mactavish, Philadelphia
LEED Status: Seeking LEED Gold
Finish: October 2007
Sustainable features: When completed, 20 wells will provide ground-sourced heating and cooling to the Georgian style facility. The curtainwall passively collects solar heat while solar arrays provide both hot water and some electricity to the building. Extensive daylighting reduces the need for artificial lighting. Stormwater runoff is collected for irrigation and a graywater system. The design employs reused, recycled, and renewable materials along with low- or no-VOC finishes and materials. A student advocacy group has played a crucial role in the project.

The Hotchkiss School, Lakeville, Conn.

Description: Boarding school for grades 9 to 12.
Scope: New, 34,000-sq-ft Esther Eastman Music Center
Construction Manager: O & G Industries, Torrington, Conn.
Cost: $13 million
Architect: Centerbrook Architects and Planners, Centerbrook, Conn.
LEED Status: Seeking LEED Certified
Finish: October 2005
Sustainable features: The new facility, which includes classrooms, rehearsal and performance spaces, including a 715-seat pavilion and offices, used recycled and renewable materials with an emphasis on indoor environmental quality. A glass rectangle supplies natural light, provides good acoustic properties, and offers views of the surrounding lake and hills.

Willow School, Gladstone, N.J.

Description: Independent day school for grades K to 8
Scope: New, 13,500-sq-ft, K-8 facility and renovations to existing buildings
General Contractor: Solid Wood Construction, Gladstone
Architect: Farewell, Mills & Gatsch Architects, Princeton, N.J.
LEED Status: LEED Gold
Finish: September 2003
Sustainable features: The timber-framed and limestone building extensively used salvaged and reused materials. Stormwater run off is used for irrigation and to flush toilets. Efficient mechanical systems, daylighting, and a photovoltaic array reduce energy costs by 53% over a comparable building.


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