Location Somerset, NJ
Size 25,000 ft²
Completed 2011 (Phase 1)
Program Dining commons and classrooms

For 25 years, DIGroup Architecture has been the go-to firm for Rutgers Preparatory School in Somerset, New Jersey, and, striving to incorporate sustainable design practices into each project, the firm has helped the school commit to sustainability through building design. Here, DIGroup president Jeff Venezia, project designer Kevin Dunn, and project architect Scott Hoffman talk to gb&d about their most recent work at Rutgers Prep.

What’s the most recent project you’ve been working on for Rutgers Preparatory School?

Jeff Venezia: Four years ago, we were commissioned to design a performing arts center for the school, which was to include a full-service kitchen and dining commons. This was right before the financial collapse in 2008, so they were only able to raise 60 percent of the funds needed for the project. We began with the first phase of the overall project, a two-story, 25,000-square-foot building with a 350-seat dining commons and classroom space. What we’ve done won’t preclude the school from building out the entire performing arts center facility in the future.


Architect DIGroup Architecture
Structural Engineer Harrison-Hamnett
Civil Engineer Menlo Engineering
General Contractor Epic Management

Is this building the first sustainable structure on campus?

Venezia: We’ve had discussions in the office many times in recent years; we look at sustainability as good design, and we’ve all practiced good design for a long time. So, to answer your question, the earlier projects were designed [sustainably], though this will be the first building to pursue LEED certification. While the school does have a commitment as an institution to sustainability, part of our charge was to incorporate sustainable features that fit within their budget.

What key features make the building sustainable?

Kevin Dunn: A lot of the sustainability came early on in the planning of the systems. We have lighting controls and HVAC controls with heat recovery as part of the HVAC package.

Scott Hoffman: We’ve concentrated on the various components of the project, from site selection to the materials that were selected for the interior to the structure’s construction management. We really took a holistic approach to the project.

Venezia: I think the initial visual impression of the building, from a sustainability standpoint, is we used a lot of daylighting. One entire wall of the dining commons is glass and overlooks the central quadrangle of the campus. You’d notice it is a brick building, which gives you an idea of the tightness of the envelope.


Certification LEED Silver (expected)
Energy Daylighting, lighting and HVAC controls, heat recovery
Water Low-flow bathroom fixtures and water-saving kitchen devices
Materials Exterior brick cladding for tight envelope, healthful interior materials

Where did you earn the most points for LEED certification?

Venezia: Our target was 32 points, and one of the areas we’ve been able to capture the most credits was by optimizing the performance of the building. This includes the HVAC system and light fixtures selected. We also have low-flow fixtures in the bathrooms and water-saving devices in the kitchen, including the dishwasher.

What type of energy efficiency is the school hoping to see from the dining commons?

Dunn: We hired an energy consultant to do energy modeling for the building. The modeling exercise we did for LEED certification suggested it would use 20 percent less energy than a similar building, though we’re currently showing 25 percent more efficient than the baseline.

Did you want the building to match the other structures on campus?

Venezia: It wasn’t a priority that it match other buildings, but it was important that it fit in with the other buildings. We’ve been working on the campus since the early ’80s, and the buildings have a very different look than years ago, but some of the materials used, like the brick, are similar. This building has a contemporary exterior. The part of the building that isn’t finished has a metal skin on it where the performing arts center will be. It will definitely be a well-designed identity building when it’s done.

The new building is composed of a 350-seat cafeteria on its lower level and 10 classrooms on the upper level. Photos: Halkin Architectural Photography