BY: CAROLINE ROLF
Before you step foot in the front doors, it’s clear that this is not a typical place of learning. The roof, which is covered in hundreds of solar energy converting panels and the unique floor plan help the school to consume 50 per cent less energy than others in the city. Located in Staten Island, this innovative concept has been put in place to reach a highly ambitious goal and quite possibly change the way that public schools are made.
This past September, the most environmentally sustainable school in New York City opened. P.S. 62, The Kathleen Grimm School for Leadership and Sustainability at Sandy Ground is the first in New York City; in fact it’s the first in the world to be net-zero energy. This means the building harvests as much energy from renewable sources on-site as it uses annually.
So far, only a few net-zero energy schools have been built in the United States, but none are designed to meet the year-round requirements of one in New York City. The panels harness a great deal of energy from the sun but they require a lot of real estate and a large budget. Because of these restraints, the designers knew that in order to reach net-zero, the building would have to consume as little energy as possible. With the help of NYC’s School Construction Authority, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM) was able to select the most cost-efficient and sustainable options to improve energy efficiency. Out of hundreds of possibilities, features like radiant heating were dismissed, while high-value solutions became part of the design.
The Kathleen Grimm School is mostly driven by daylight. This energy-saving feature, among others, is based on design strategies that involve the building’s shape and orientation on the grounds. By maximizing that natural light that reaches the classrooms and hallways, the school’s dependence on electricity has been greatly reduced. To achieve maximum interior daylight, skylights, windows, sloped ceilings and light-reflecting surfaces were strategically placed throughout the school.
While the building’s profile is defined by its roof and windows, another key feature is hidden underground. 420 feet below the surface of the school is a system of geothermal wells to help naturally heat and cool the structure. This system streamlines the temperature of the earth to keep the school at an appropriate temperature for the season and save significantly on energy.
The new school is in response to the city’s initiative to tackle climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Electricity and heat production are the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions on the planet according to this data. Of all the municipal buildings in New York City, public schools account for roughly 40 per cent of emissions. P.S. 62 is a chance to test energy-saving strategies that could improve the efficiency of schools across the five neighbourhoods.
While half the school’s energy would go towards the building’s essentials, like heating, the other half will depend on the people using the space. It is up to the students and faculty of P.S. 62 to reduce their energy use to reach net-zero energy. By making simple adjustments like shared printing stations and a user manual on electricity conservation, energy saving will become a habit.
SOM is helping students understand energy conservation with the help of interactive visual displays. Found throughout the building are dashboards designed to engage the students as participants in achieving net-zero.
As New York City continues its efforts to reduce carbon emissions, the vice president for an SCA department believes a project like this is crucial to a sustainable urban future. The Kathleen Grimm School could have a great impact on the nation’s largest school system. Sustainability methods from this school could be applied to buildings in NYC and many other schools across the country.