A 2017 AIA Committee on the Environment “Top Ten” recipient, Discovery Elementary School has received Zero Energy certification from the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). Discovery is the first verified Zero Energy (ZE) building certified by the collaborative partnership of the ILFI and New Buildings Institute (NBI). These organizations oversee certification and data collection, respectively—creating a seamless system for tracking, registering, certifying, and evaluating ZE buildings. Designed by VMDO Architects, Discovery is one of only four schools nationally and the largest building of any type to receive ZE certification.
Discovery is Arlington Public Schools’ first elementary school designed in the 21st century. Throughout a series of intensive community planning meetings, careful attention was focused on designing and building a school that supports how and where students learn. Every area of the school is arranged to create a seamless integration between design, sustainability, and learning. The school’s ZE design results in $117,000 of annual utility cost savings in comparison to a typical APS elementary school of the same size—enough to cover the salaries of two teachers. The project was completed under budget, allowing the school district to apply $2,900,000 to other projects. Further, the building is operating more efficiently than designed, at an actual energy use intensity (EUI) of 15.8 KBTU/sf/year. During 2017, Discovery produced more energy than it used—sending a surplus of 100,000 kWh to the grid, which is enough to power 7.5 average Virginia homes for an entire year.
Accelerating ZE through Sustainable Design Partnerships—In fall 2016, the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Initiative launched its Zero Energy Schools Accelerator in conjunction with a tour of Discovery, led by Wyck Knox. The Accelerator program seeks to make ZE schools more mainstream by demonstrating how investing in renewable energy translates into cost savings and enhanced learning environments. Initially, the DOE partnered with APS and five other school districts to develop ZE plans. In 2017, APS included ZE design as a requirement in new construction procurement. Later that year, Arlington County earned the nation’s first LEED for Communities Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
“What is most important about [Discovery] is that it allows teachers to think about how students learn. Curriculum is just something the state gives to us and you can teach that anywhere, but with this space, we can get creative, experiment, and shepherd meaningful experiences,” said Discovery Elementary Principal Erin Russo.
Like its name suggests, Discovery provides hands-on learning opportunities that encourage students to take ownership of their sustainable school and contribute to its zero energy culture. Certified LEED Gold by the USGBC, Discovery received six Innovation in Design credits including School as a Teaching Tool. To foster a culture of stewardship and accountability, sustainable features such as the photovoltaic array are made visible and accessible through learning opportunities such as a rooftop solar lab. Data from the adjustable solar lab is fed into the school’s building energy dashboard, allowing students to conduct experiments with real-time data. The building’s energy data can be tracked hourly, daily, monthly, and yearly, and is publicly available for use—prompting the school community to engage, question, and become active participants in their school as a teaching tool.
Discovery will be honored at the International Living Future Institute’s annual conference on Thu, May 3.
For more information about VMDO Architects and Discovery Elementary School, please visit vmdo.com.