Zero Energy Schools - Spotlight on Arlington County Public Schools

By Monica Kanojia, The Hannon Group, Better Buildings Iniative on Dec 08, 2016

Education serves as the foundation of a strong and resilient society. While educators and curriculums contribute greatly to the success of the student body, it has become progressively apparent that the built environment also has an impact on not just energy but also student performance. The power of education extends far beyond the classroom – evident in everything from the collective ability to compete on an international stage, to developing masterful solutions to the most pressing issues, to innovation leading to the advancement of society. According to the National center for Education Statistics, today's students spend an average of about 180 days in a classroom setting, almost half a year, making it even more important to ensure that each of them has the opportunity to thrive in an optimal learning environment.

Yesterday, The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) launched the Zero Energy Schools Accelerator in an effort to make zero energy K12 schools mainstream. Given the distinct opportunities to improve performance while consequently providing a learning envrionment with sustainablity features that not only improve the student body’s cognitive abilities, while also transforming facilties into 3D classrooms, zero energy schools are an optimal choice for acceleration of the market towards zero energy design and construction. The power of Zero Energy Schools was experienced live and in living color during a visit to Discovery Elementary School, located near the Nation’s capital in Arlington, Virginia, led by Dr. Erin Russo, Principal of Discovery Elementary; John C. Chadwick, Assistant Superintendent for Arlington Public Schools and Catherine Lin, Energy Manager for Arlington Public Schools, as well as the design and engineering team which includes Wyck Knox, VMDO Architects and R. Anthony Hans, CMTA.

On the tour at Discovery Elementary School: David Nemtzow, Director, Building Technologies Office; Dr. Erin Russo, Principal, Discovery Elementary; Discovery Elementary students

Designed to meet an Energy Use Index (EUI) of 23 kBTU/Sq. Ft./year, which is substantially less than the regional average consumption rate of about 70 kBTU/Sq. Ft./year, Discovery has the ability to host 650 students within an approximately 98,000 sq. ft. property. The school boasts many energy efficient technologies and operations strategies to meet its ambitious goals, including 1,706 mounted solar panels, a geothermal well field, pre-heated domestic water via solar technology, 100 percent LED lighting, ideal solar irentation and shading and bio retention areas that clean and release water from the faciltiy.

“Discovery is highly efficient because the effort to build it was highly collaborative from the start and continues to be today,” said R. Anthony Hans, CMTA. “We track systems data in collaboration with the school to ensure that we can get in and fix anything that is malfunctioning on a weekly basis. Continuous collaboration is one of the main reasons that this school is performing 10-20 percent better than our energy model.”

Discovery’s energy goals are also integrated into learning goals for students, allowing for each of them to assist in data collection associated with the tracking of energy performance statistics to ensure performance expectations are being met. Students were on hand during the event to explain how efficiency is at the forefront - even in the cafeteria where waste is  weighed by students so that they can determine exactly how much is created and what can be done to decrease it. Students are also invovled in tracking whether the study body is commuting in a sustainable matter – counting the number of cars at drop off and pick-up, as well as instituting a Bike-or-Walk to school day and tracking the associated energy savings.

“We have created a safe environment for our students to want to learn in with a sense of ownership through involvement in our efforts to maintain efficient operations,” said Dr. Russo, Principal of Discovery Elementary. “Children sometimes have to be pulled from classes by their parents for things like doctor’s appointments, and at other schools those kids don’t come back. At Discovery, we see students come back at 3 p.m., even when the school day is almost over, because they want to be here. They enjoy learning here.”

Despite the associated challenges – budgets, regulations, and knowledge gaps – many school districts are stepping up and optimizing energy efficient strategies and technology as a means to actualize cost savings, performance improvements and budgetary benefits. The message conveyed by both school administrators and the design and engineering team was the collaborative relationship between all parties invovled from inception to completion and its importance, not only during the process, but in ensuring that Discovery Elemetary continues to perform above expectations.

See all the videos from the tour below:

EERE Highlights Video: Features Monica Kanojia on-site at the school the day of the tour.

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Fox 5: Zero Energy School

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ABC WJLA: Arlington Va. school uses Net Zero Energy building

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