In Boulder, A Middle School With A 4.0 In Green

Sure, there are a lot of middle schools across the country putting a little renewable energy into play, and working it into the curriculum. But middle schols with a comprehensive approach to sustainability are few and far between. One such example is Casey Middle School in Boulder, Colorado, which recently become the second middle school in the nation to take LEED Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

The green focus starts from the ground up with the school’s east/west orientation, allowing it to take advantage of passive solar heating and cooling opportunities, along with plenty of natural daylighting. The school’s location in a central, urban area makes it easy for kids, faculty and staff to get to school via mass transit, foot or bike.

Casey Middle School

image via Boulder Valley School District

The building design, by RB+B Architects, pays special attention to energy efficiency, resource conservation and user comfort.  High- performance glazings and insulation were utilized to help reduce heating and cooling loads. Indoor temps are kept comfortable by a ground-source geothermal heat exchange system, in conjunction with water-to-air pumps. (All told, this geothermal system covers 90 percent of the building’s heating and cooling needs).

Numerous windows and tubular skylights bring abundant daylight into the classroom, helping kids concentrate on their studies while reducing the amount of electricity sucked up by the building over the course of the average school day.

Two facades from the old middle school building are all that remain from the school’s previous incarnation from the outside. But another trace of that old building remains in the new school’s interior walls, which contain old gym flooring — a touch that’s sure to stimulate classroom discussions on recycling, reusing and upcycling. Additionally, much of the furniture from the old building was dismantled and recycled. Wherever possible, the project made use of materials harvested or manufactured within 500 miles of the site, including those incorporating recycled content.

For power, the building incorporates renewable energy generated on site via its 26.78 kW solar panel array, which also serves as a sunshade for the school’s bicycle parking.

Water conserving features of the school include its artificial turf field, low-flow fixtures, water-wise landscaping and a bioswale located under the courtyard, all of whiich work together in reducing water use and improve local water quality. A roof garden works to reduce stormwater runoff while reducing the heat island effect created by the building, increasing local biodiversity, contributing to building insulation and absorbing carbon.

Energy conserving features include high efficiency lighting connected to dimmer controls, as well as occupancy sensors that turn the lights off when no one’s in the room.

Replacing its 88-year-old predecessor, the new middle school was completed in July 2010 at a cost of $31 million, raised through the local school district’s bond program. The new school encompasses 106,458 square feet and is situated on a 8.4 acres site. It includes 35 classrooms accommodating seventh and eighth grade students, and a 361-seat auditorium, as well as a zero-waste cafeteria.

Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.