The Nation’s First Net Zero Energy Public School
The new Richardsville Elementary School is situated on a hillside site overlooking a community park and natural wooded ravine. It was built on the same site as the old Richardsville Elementary, and materials from the old school, such as fieldstone veneer and parquet wood flooring, were salvaged and incorporated into the new facility.
Having collaborated on several highly successful high performance schools, the WCPS challenge set forth for the Richardsville Elementary School design team was to provide a school that demonstrated a “net zero” energy demand, as well as, water efficiency, a sustainable site, material and resource conservation, and an indoor/outdoor environment to promote a healthy progressive learning atmosphere while reducing life cycle maintenance costs and eliminating energy costs altogether.
The result was the first total energy net zero public school in the nation, and the only net zero energy school in Kentucky.
A 248 kw photovoltaic array consisting of roof-mounted thin film panels and a shade structure of mono-crystalline panels provide 100% of the building’s energy needs annually. Providing enough solar energy to power the building was the easiest aspect of the design team’s challenge, the greatest obstacles included:
- The dramatic energy reduction goal of 75% less energy usage than the average school
- Affordability – Total construction cost, including solar array, could not exceed the KDE standard budget for a conventional elementary school.
The final design focuses on the following aspects identified and implemented by the design team:
- High performance building envelope (ICF walls and R-32 roof)
- Daylight harvesting for classrooms, corridors, and public spaces
- Geothermal HVAC (w/distributive pumping and hot water generation)
- Site-produced solar energy
- “Green” kitchen energy use reduction strategies
- Operations/Maintenance plan
Another important aspect of the design focused on the students and the integration of the energy saving and sustainable features of the building into the curriculum to create a learning environment of curiosity and imagination.
Energy dashboards demonstrate the building’s usage connecting teachers, students and the community to the knowledge of real world energy usage. Through a series of themed hallways, students are immersed in the knowledge of the building systems and performance, encouraging a “culture of inquiry”.
- The “geothermal hallway” with exposed system components displays temperature gauges to watch the earth at work.
- A “solar hallway” allows students to see the amount of energy transferred from the sun to laptop batteries.
- A “water conservation hallway” displays rainwater collection and filtration through site bioswales.
- A “recycling hallway” with bins allows students to measure recycling quantities.
The integration of laptops and iPads combined with Wi-Fi access, creates building transparency providing students the ability to obtain knowledge beyond the classroom walls. Within the outdoor classroom the weather station allows students to apply and monitor the impact of weather and the environment on the building’s performance.