Green School Gathers for Takeoff
By combining the elementary and middle schools into one 1,300-student facility, the two-story structure saves energy and avoids wasting materials. A shared space links the two schools. Spencer Loomis Elementary School to the south, and the curved Lake Zurich Middle School to the north. Each school looks out onto its own wetland.
The highlight of the shared connector is the "spaceship" entrance, which features sloping glass and curving, green, prepatinated copper panels. Artificial weathering created the green hue that normally coats copper after about 15 years.
The copper reflects the building's other sustainable features in that the metal is recyclable, durable, and requires no maintenance. According to Legat's project manager David Voss, "The entrance conveys a message: technological progress and environmental preservation."
Inside, a library splits into halves, one for each school, within the egg-shaped space created by the curving copper. The shared space also includes a presentation center and a cafetorium — a descending three-level space that can function as both a cafeteria and an auditorium — with durable porcelain ceramic tile walls, an exposed ceiling, and glass walls revealing an outdoor courtyard.
The cafetorium levels separate the elementary and middle school students. They also provide better views to the stage from the back of the space. The stage is equipped with performance lighting, curtains, and a sound system.
Shedding Light on Learning
According to school board president Jan Putbress, "we wanted the school to be sensitive to the health needs of people, with a focus on air and light quality." Studies show natural light increases test scores, decreases absenteeism, enhances physical growth, and decreases depression.
"Natural light touches every major space in the building," says Legat project architect John Gresko. Oriented on an east-west axis, the building gives classrooms an optimal north/south exposure. Features such as "low-e" window coatings, solar shades, and light shelves reduce glare and solar heat during warmer months, and increase heat gain during winter, while maximizing daylight year-round.
Middle school principal Mark Kuzniewski says that the open, bright atmosphere has created a new culture: "Our entire staff is approaching teaching in a different way. Students are learning differently as well." Not only is the light believed to enhance student performance, the related design features are instructive.
Because they are highly visible, features such as sun shades, solar panels, and light shelves instill environmental awareness among students and supplement educational lessons, like science class discussions on solar energy.
While traditional chillers operate during the day to create cool air, this school has an ice storage system that creates ice at night when the utility company's rates are lowest. Then, during hot summer afternoons, cold air is available immediately, and smaller chillers operate more efficiently.
Depending on the season, an energy recovery mechanical system extracts heat (or colder air) from return air to warm (or cool) and humidify incoming air. Also, high efficiency boilers are 10 percent more efficient than standard boilers.
Operable windows bring fresh air to classrooms, and when the outdoor temperature is comfortable, economizer cycles on air handling units fill classrooms with 100 percent outdoor air. High-efficiency filters in the air handling units are more than twice as efficient as in an average building.
The building was constructed with low-toxicity materials such as low-VOC paints and adhesives, formaldehyde/ CFC/ HCFC-free foamed-in-place insulation, and chemical-free firestopping.
Elementary school principal Grant Seaholm reports that the children think the green spaceship is "...the coolest thing. They like looking at it as much as they like being in it."
Local educators seem to think "green" is "cool" too. The facility's energy and space-saving features, with its environmental sensitivity and progressive design, is touted as a model that launches techniques likely to take off in other Illinois school districts.
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