As a part of the USGBC's Rocky Mountain Green Conference we packed our lunch box and went on a tour of Denver’s first LEED Gold School. What makes this campus unique is how DLR Group Architects designed it to be a community hub. The newly-minted Evie Garrett Dennis Campus radiates out from the core building with a student union and multi-purpose space, and the project utilizes energy-efficient building strategies and a huge solar array that make it practically net-zero energy -- read on for an exclusive first look!
The campus is located on the fringe of eastern Denver suburbia, a vast tract of new construction projects and cul-de-sacs. While it’s not located in the most sustainable of developments ,the design does reflect the need for a community center in such a fast growing area. The campus is actually a series of separate schools anchored by a main building that hosts cafeterias, meeting rooms, a gym and 300 kW of solar panels on its white roof. Dubbed the Student Union Building it, is actually run like a business for events, providing much-needed space for the growing community.
Three nearly identical buildings with marquee overhangs provide a multitude of educational opportunities — including a charter school for k – 2nd grade, a public science and technology high school, and a middle school. The unusual set-up allows for the campus to adapt to changing education needs in the community. The school itself is an educational tool for green building, and it has a lot to teach the students and faculty about how buildings work.
The heart of the project’s green building strategy is a huge 6.5 acre “slinky” geothermal source field located 12 feet underneath the ball field’s turf. The system tremendously reduces the energy needed to heat and cool the building, and it ensures quieter classrooms since noisy AC systems don’t constantly kick on.
The other key design detail is the quality daylighting — since the buildings have an east-west orientation, south-facing windows have diffusing glass while northern windows allow for good ambient lighting. Signs describing green design elements are located throughout the campus and on touchscreen monitors in the main hallways. Take a look and you’ll see all the LEED points the project earned for it’s Gold certification, and if that seems boring then switch to the display that tells how much electricity the building’s solar panels are producing right now. The signs are there to draw attention to things that are often taken for granted — like the 40 Solatubes® in the gym ceiling.
A “truth wall” with an embedded glass pane shows how the walls are insulated with expanding spray foam insulation to tightly seal the building envelope. Fresh air is piped in through an energy recovery ventilator and signs explain how the school keeps air free from radon, VOC’s, cleaning products, and outside pollutants — although I was a bit surprised to see vinyl graphics on the walls which could release phthalates. The 250,000 square foot project will also host a sports complex when completed. The campus was built on schedule and under budget in an amazing year and a half, which bodes well for the school district to build additional LEED schools in the future.
Photos © Andrew Michler for Inhabitat