Location Staten Island, NY
Size 68,000 ft²
Completed 2015 (expected)
Program 444-seat primary school
Architect Skidmore, Owings & Merrill
Client New York City School Construction Authority for the New York City Department of Education
It’s doubtful that anyone would liken unveiling a new school model to unveiling a new Corvette at a car show, but the showing of the first net-zero-energy school in New York City to a group of administrators in Vermont and New Hampshire at a sustainable schools conference had the group erupting in audible gasps. “I don’t think anybody has ever seen a school like this,” says Bruce Barrett, the vice president for architecture and engineering at the New York City School Construction Authority, an agency of the New York City Department of Education.
The thing everyone was so excited about was the school’s photovoltaic skin. The sleek, 68,000-square-foot building designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) will be the first net-zero elementary school of its kind in the Northeast, thanks to all those panels. The project broke ground on the 3.5-acre Staten Island site in October 2012, and the building is scheduled to open its doors to 444 pre-kindergarten to fifth grade students in fall 2015. Known as PS 62, the school building is designed to use 50 percent less energy than a typical New York City public school, at cost premium (excluding the on-site energy generation system) of roughly 10 percent above that of a typical new New York City public school building. The total contract award, including demolition, environmental consultation, extensive site work, and the building with all its systems, was approximately $70 million.
Early SOM concept designs reveal a school that bears little resemblance to the large, multistory brick buildings found in New York City, Chicago, and other densely populated urban districts. Outside, a glossy, deep-blue array of 2,000 three-foot by five-foot photovoltaic panels blankets the roof of the building, the low-sloping southern façade, and a canopy above the parking lot. Inside the school is bright, open, and airy. Natural light coming in through large glass skylights filters into the offset first- and second-floor corridors and spills into individual classrooms through transoms in the corridor walls, adding to the daylight provided by expansive classroom windows. Open staircases connect the building’s two floors and allow for additional light infiltration. The end result is 90 percent daylight autonomy in the classrooms, Barrett says.
Certifications New York City Green Schools Certified, Net Zero Energy Building (expected)
Lighting Daylight, occupancy sensors and dimming capabilities
Water Solar thermal hot-water system, low-flow fixtures
Energy Ultra-tight envelope, energy dashboards, photovoltaics, demand-control ventilation, geothermal
Landscape Greenhouse, vegetable garden, green roof
Responsibility for achieving the goal of net-zero energy will fall, in part, on the conservation efforts of students and staff, but they will have tools to help them. Wall-mounted digital dashboards will graphically report the amount of energy being used in each classroom, and students will be given a daily energy budget they will be encouraged to stay under. “We anticipate a kind of contest going on where at the end of the day, week, or month, you find out whether you have met your energy budget or not,” Barrett says.
Although the New York City school system is immense—1,300 buildings serve 1.1 million students—the Department of Education is not shying away from efforts at energy conservation. Plans for the design and construction of PS 62 were a natural outgrowth of PlaNYC 2030, a New York City green infrastructure initiative unveiled on Earth Day 2007 by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. New York City’s Local Law 86, which requires new publicly funded school projects budgeted for greater than $2 million to be LEED certified, was another key impetus. Prior to the project’s start, the School Construction Authority published a 2007 document known as the New York City Green Schools Guide that adapted LEED rating systems and certification standards originally intended for commercial buildings to the urban school setting.
Environmentally friendly retrofits at other New York City schools have placed emphasis on indoor air quality, daylighting, room-specific temperature controls, and natural gas-fired HVAC components. As of February 2013, every school, Barrett says, has a sustainability coordinator appointed by the building principal and charged with championing energy conservation and environmental education.