Choosing to break ground on a new construction project is always a major undertaking. However, the leaders of the Bethany School, an order of Episcopal nuns called the Sisters of the Transfiguration, took a fresh approach when they began constructing new buildings on campus.
As a result, their new 3rd-8th grade building is considered the second-most energy-efficient school building in the United States, second only to a school that doesn’t require an air-conditioning system. It’s considered net-zero, meaning that it produces as much energy as it uses.
“The sisters did not sway on any of the net-zero energy costs,” says Sharon Shumard, director of advancement for Bethany School. “They are the ones that pushed for the 108 geothermal wells that will heat and cool the whole campus eventually.”
The building meets the LEED Platinum certification, the most rigorous standard for energy-efficiency and sustainability in architecture. A major component is a geothermal heat exchange system that creates year-round, sustainable heating and cooling.
They also have 250 solar panels to provide electricity needs for the campus. The system is tied into the Duke Energy grid, creating a potential source of revenue during days when school isn’t in session.
“Now that we are completely on-grid, we got a check from the energy company for $20,000 because we make more energy than we use,” says Sharon.
Beyond energy production, LEED specifies how the building can impact its natural environment. For instance, the building project needed to make use of recycled materials, as well as find a use for any trees that were taken down as a result. Since the school wanted an innovative play area for the students, these two goals were rolled into one.
“All the wood in the playscape were trees that we used to have here on campus; we knew the kids would see these trees come down, so we held all the wood, drying it for two years on campus,” explains Sharon. “Our landscaper, Landworx, came and built this great place out of those beautiful trees. The design of the playscape is a focus on unstructured play.”
The playscape is an innovative pathway between buildings on the Bethany School campus, full of climbable tree segments and places to sit and talk with friends. Gravel and stone were used to create a natural stormwater drainage system that ensures that 30% more water is taken up by the ground rather than just diverting it into a municipal stormwater system.
Inside the building, the different corridors and ‘pods’ for the grade levels have nature themes and plenty of windows so that the children can look outside. With the Bethany mascot being the Bluehawk, a group of students called the Eco-Hawks run environmental awareness efforts on campus, such as bulletin boards promoting recycling.
The campus is still under construction, with a new K-2 building coming soon. It will feature an additional outdoor classroom so that children can spend more time outside in nature.
The end goal of creating this special, eco-friendly building has always been to benefit the school and its students; Sharon says they are already seeing dividends on that front.
“The kids understand that this building was built for them and was an investment in them,” Sharon says. “They are really grateful for what they have. The teachers also love it because they have better room and more room, making classroom management better.”
Bethany School, 513.771.7462, 555 Albion Ave, Glendale, BethanySchool.org
Understanding Sustainable Design Features
- Geothermal heat exchange systems use deep ‘wells’ buried in the ground, where the temperature is 50-60 degrees F all year. The system uses the naturally cool temperature of the earth to heat and cool the buildings.
- The building is designed to be turned ‘toward’ the sun at the right times of day to get great window sunlight as well as to generate solar energy.
- The building also retains the heat and cooling that are used on it, because it has excellent insulation, including heavy insulation in the roof and spray foam insulation used during construction.
- The construction materials and products were selected so that at least 20% of all materials were recycled and at least 20% were locally harvested and manufactured. This choice keeps materials out of landfills and reduces carbon emissions from shipping materials worldwide.