August 20, 2002
Green features encourage schools to lighten up
By DAVE HEWITT
Not so many years ago, gazing out the window of your high school could get you in trouble for not paying attention. That was before designers of schools realized that natural light from the sun could actually make one a better student.
Improved test scores is only one of the many benefits of today’s intelligently designed ‘green’ schools. Architects, engineers and school officials on the leading edge of school construction are becoming increasing aware that what’s good for the environment is also good for the students inside.
Yes, energy-effective measures like daylighting, natural ventilation, operable windows and efficient electric light are important because they save on power bills — but they are more important because they actually improve the performance of the building’s occupants. For students, that translates into higher test scores.
In fact, one study of 21,000 students in three U.S. school districts (including students in Seattle Public Schools) showed that students with the most daylighting in classrooms performed up to 20 percent better on math tests and up to 26 percent on English tests. Daylighting, along with other green building features, such as natural ventilation, operable windows and visual access to the outdoor environment, have also been shown to reduce sick days, increase productivity and raise retail sales.
With this data in mind, BOORA Architects of Portland designed Clackamas High School to provide both an expanded educational facility for a growing Portland suburb and improve the well-being and academic performance of its students. Arguably one of the greenest schools ever built, the 265,335-square-foot Clackamas High School (which opened in April) was recognized by Rocky Mountain Institute and the Energy Foundation as a national model for energy performance.
“Creating an environment where the building is a teacher in itself and where it can rely on natural resources for operation was integral to the project’s goal of creating a state-of-the-art, dynamic learning space for students,” said Heinz Rudolf, BOORA’s principal architect in charge for the project. “We incorporated windows, skylights, sunshades and light shelves to provide optimum daylighting and views to nearly all spaces occupied by students and staff.”
The building is expected to reduce accountable energy costs by 44 percent. Accountable energy includes that used for HVAC, interior lighting and water heating. Much of this energy savings is due to the school’s use of daylighting. In fact, the planning for daylighting and energy efficiency began at the earliest stages of the building’s design — which, according to experts, is key to successfully using the sun to light a space.
“Daylighting has to be carefully integrated with a building’s electric light from the very beginning,” said Joel Loveland, a daylighting advisor for Better Bricks, an information network that promotes energy-effective design.
At Clackamas High School, BetterBricks provided daylighting studies, daylighting controls and “commissioning” for the entire building. Building commissioning involves examining all of a building’s systems (such as HVAC) to ensure that they are functioning efficiently and at full capacity.
At Clackamas, daylighting was carefully integrated with the electric lighting system through sensors that measure the amount of light in any given room. The building was oriented for optimal daylighting and solar access. “Light scoops” collect sunlight through translucent windows and skylights and transfer daylight to adjacent spaces via clerestory windows and Solatubes to the lower floor.
Other green features of the building include natural ventilation controlled by mechanical dampers, louvers and air stacks in all classrooms, common areas and gymnasiums, the use of recyclable concrete, metal, glass carpet, fabric and acoustical tiles and recycled content in the rubber flooring, toilet partitions and upholstery. Where possible, low-maintenance, long-life building materials were used. Other building materials were chosen for their low toxicity.
Planning for future green improvements was not forgotten during the design and construction of Clackamas High School. Provisions were made for future installation of solar photovoltaic panels on the roof and electric vehicle recharging stations in the parking lot.
“Our new school sits at the crossroads between the green line and the bottom line,” said Ron Naso, superintendent of the North Clackamas School District. “This is where what was best for our students was also best for our budget, as well as smart for the environment.”
In fact, the school’s cost per square foot was $117 — well below the typical cost of a high school’s construction, which usually runs $135 to $145 per square foot. In fact, one of the most common mistaken beliefs about energy-effective design is that it has to cost more, says Loveland.
“The most important thing is that these kind of issues have to be brought up early in the process,” he said. “The second most important thing is to have a design team that understands and is experienced in designing buildings of this type.”
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