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Aspen school first in state to earn LEED gold rating

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

ASPEN ” The Aspen Middle School has become the first school in the state to earn a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design gold certification ” the second-highest LEED rating available ” officials announced on Thursday. The hallmark green building certification recognizes the district’s efforts to build an environmentally sustainable school.

Solar collectors and lights that turn off automatically when people aren’t in the room are just some of the design elements that earned the school its rating, said Paul Hutton, principal of Hutton Ford architects, which designed the school. The new middle school is so energy-efficient that, even in last year’s cold and snowy winter, it used half as much energy as the previous building, according to Superintendent Diana Sirko.

Hutton explained that a transpired solar collector ” which looks to the casual observer simply like a perforated black screen ” collects solar energy along the south wall of the gym and uses it to pre-heat the building. Along the windows, interior and exterior louvers control the amount, and angle, of light coming in to provide passive heating and cooling. An energy-efficient boiler provides additional energy savings.

Inside the school, the lights are not only fluorescent, they also are dimmable, said Hutton, Photo sensors automatically dim a room’s electric lights based on the amount of natural light coming in. In addition, motion sensors turn the lights off altogether if no one is in the room. Throughout the building, “light tubes” use skylight technology to bring natural light down to even the first floor.

In fact, Sirko said teachers have told her that if they are grading papers in their classroom late at night, they have learned they need to walk around every once in awhile, or the lights will go out.

Coolant that doesn’t deplete the ozone layer, a waterproof coating on the gym floor that doesn’t “off gas” volatile organic compounds and power purchased from green sources round out the new school’s commitment to the environment.

In addition, the district made a point of deconstructing, rather than demolishing, the old Aspen Middle School, in the hopes of recycling 70 percent of the estimated 10,000 tons of material. Though the deconstruction also took longer than a demolition would have, it is now complete, except for the grading to create a winter sledding hill, said Sirko. The district plans to wait until spring to lay out the asphalt for a playground on the site of the old school, she added.

The cost of building a LEED gold building amounted to roughly $590,000 of the total $25.5 million cost, or about 2 percent, according to Hutton. The local Community Office of Resource Efficiency, or CORE, contributed $250,000 to fund the effort, and the district paid the rest.

In return, the district is saving $200,000 in energy costs each year, according to Sirko.

And there may be more savings to come, says Hutton. His firm recently calculated that as a consequence of the building’s energy efficiency, 900,000 pounds of carbon is kept out of the environment each year. Learning that, the parties involved began wondering what it would take to be able to say that they were keeping one million pounds of carbon out of the atmosphere each year.

So during construction, workers laid cables near the bus barn in order to eventually be able to install a 240-foot solar array to save the additional 100,000 pounds of carbon, he said.

According to both Sirko and Hutton, sustainability became a goal for the district even before an architect was chosen. Throughout the design process, the district and Hutton Ford architect Kari-Elin Mock vetted numerous ideas to make the building efficient. Eventually, they threw out options less likely to meet the school’s needs, like geo-exchange, and kept those that would provide the greatest energy savings for the cost involved, said Hutton.

Hutton also credited CORE with pushing the architects and school district to apply for the LEED certification, despite the copious amounts of paperwork required. The office was a strong advocate of the process as a way to prove the district had really accomplished what it set out to do, Hutton said.

“I think we would have had a sustainable building, but not gone to LEED and certainly not gold without their support,” said Hutton.

Sirko noted that while other Colorado schools still in the construction or design phase are aiming for gold certification, she believes Aspen Middle School is currently the only operating school in the state to have received the award. According to a recently updated list from the Green Building Council, only one other Colorado school has earned a LEED certification ” the Fossil Ridge High School, in Fort Collins, which was awarded silver LEED status.

kredding@aspentimes.com


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