School Climate & Safety

School Seeks World-Class Rating for Energy Efficiency

By Joetta L. Sack — December 13, 2005 3 min read
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For the Sidwell Friends School, environmental stewardship is a crucial part of exemplifying Quaker values and traditions.

So when it came time to build an addition to its middle school, the private school here looked to sustainable design—a form of architecture that uses environmentally friendly and energy-efficient strategies to minimize a building’s impact on the environment.

But Sidwell Friends, which serves students in prekindergarten through 12th grade, is taking that principle much further than other schools by building what is believed to be the most “sustainable” school facility in the country, if not the world.

The school is seeking “platinum” status in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, the top tier in a rating system devised by the U.S. Green Building Council, a Washington-based coalition of industry groups that promotes environmentally friendly buildings, to assess the environmental sustainability of building designs.

About a dozen buildings worldwide have achieved such status.

“There’s a long-standing interest that the Quakers have in environmental stewardship—you hold the land in trust, and leave it as rich as you find it, but preferably in better shape,” said Bruce B. Stewart, the headmaster of the school, which was founded in 1883.

Green Is In

Sustainable design is a trend that has grown steadily in recent years, as more schools look for ways to save money on energy costs and help the environment.

Features of such designs can range from long-lasting flooring made from renewable materials to systems that reuse rainwater and generate power to run the facilities. Some states, including Washington and California, now require publicly funded buildings to incorporate sustainable principles in their designs.

Many school architects and contractors are seeking “silver” or “gold” status on the LEED rankings for their projects, said Barbara C. Worth, the associate executive director with the Council of Educational Facility Planners International, in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Sustainable design “is definitely a growing trend, especially now that people are getting over being afraid that it’s going to cost a lot more,” Ms. Worth said.

Sidwell Friends’ project, which will add 39,000 square feet to the existing 33,000-square-foot middle school, will cost about 14 percent more than a conventional building, said Michael Saxenian, the assistant head of the school and chief financial officer.

Much of that cost is expected to be recouped by energy savings, but the health and environmental benefits are immeasurable, he added.

Used Wine Barrels

The Sidwell Friends project, scheduled to be completed this summer, incorporates many novel elements.

Most notably, the new structure will have a grass roof, where students will grow herbs to be used by the cafeteria staff.

The building will use natural ventilation for most of its heating and cooling, which reduces energy usage and improves indoor-air quality. The school is also creating an odor-free wetlands site that will treat sewage and recycle water to be used for toilets.

The new and existing buildings will be clad in red cedar, a long-lasting wood that is being recycled from used wine barrels.

Recycling of existing structures is another principle of sustainability. Sidwell Friends officials chose not to tear down the current middle school building, but to renovate it using sustainable materials and designs. In a separate project, the school is building an underground parking garage that will have athletic fields on its roof.

Ultimately, the school hopes to renovate all of its facilities on the 15-acre campus in the northwest section of the nation’s capital to incorporate environmentally friendly design.

The school officials first examined three strategies when they began to plan the middle school, said Mr. Saxenian. Ultimately, they decided they wanted an exemplary project that would not only benefit the 1,091-student school community, but would also serve as a showcase for other schools, and host visitors from around the world to learn about such issues.

Mr. Saxenian also wants the facility to serve as a teaching tool for students, who will study the mechanisms of the building as part of their science and technology classes. He said he will even lobby the District of Columbia Council to encourage environmentally friendly construction projects elsewhere in Washington.

“This is going to make a tremendous difference in [students’] values,” Mr. Stewart said. “It will change the nature of who you are and what you do, and it seems irresponsible not to follow these guidelines.”

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