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High school LEEDing the way

The words energy, efficiency and environment seemed to be on repeat when Steve Crane and Whitney Ward, architects for the VCBO firm, led a tour of the nearly completed construction at Park City High School (PCHS) Wednesday morning. The tour was given to members of the inter-agency task force, including a group of representatives from influential groups around the community.

One of the main attributes of the remodel according to the architects is the efficient use of space. The new layout created four academic houses, each with about eight classrooms. Each house has a common gathering area. Hilary Hays, PCHS principal said that students have quickly taken to the idea of moving group projects out of the classroom and into the hallways. Science labs are located between houses, so lab equipment can be shared between classes.

The central common area is another example of efficiency because it was designed to be in use throughout the day. Student lockers are located in the commons, which makes it a popular place for students to mingle before school and between classes. The lunchroom is located in the commons. Dave McNaughtan, PCHS vice principal explained that the common area will also be used for dances. The janitors are happy because the dances won’t be held in the gyms where they damage the wood floors, and the administrators think the common area is ideal for dances because chaperones can monitor student behavior from the balconies above. The commons also has a projection system where movies can be shown to a large audience.

Ward explained that before the remodel, the classroom efficiency rate was about 55 percent, meaning that classrooms were only in use about half the day. The new building improved this situation by providing workrooms for the teachers. New classrooms were built with only minimal amount of desk space for teachers, which should encourage them to use the designated prep areas, explained Crane. Hays said that teachers didn’t like the workrooms at first, but now say they couldn’t live without them. The workrooms also provide a meeting place for teachers to increase collaboration.

All of these details will be factored in when PCHS applies for LEED certification. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It’s a nationally recognized program monitored by the U.S. Green Building Council. Ward said that PCHS will be one of the first LEED certified high schools in the state.

LEED uses a 69-point system to evaluate buildings. According to Ward, buildings can earn points in five different areas, and PCHS will be given points in all five. The categories are: sustainable sites, water efficiency, use of local and recycled materials, indoor air quality, and energy conservation.

Ward said that, for example, PCHS will earn LEED points because of its proximity to neighborhoods and commercial centers. PCHS also scores points for re-using seats from the old building in the new lecture hall.

"If you notice holes in the metal beams, don’t be alarmed," cautioned Crane, "the holes were already there, we recycled beams from the old building." Crane said that they used as many pieces of the old building as they could.

As well as borrowing from the past, the architects tried to use materials that will be reusable in the future. Ceiling tiles, carpet, and cement building blocks are all made of easily recycled materials, explained Ward, describing it as a, "100-year building."

The paint and carpet used in the remodel have fewer toxins in them than ordinary materials. Also, the football field was replaced with synthetic turf, which uses about one-tenth the amount of water a grass field does, according to Ward. She said that in Park City turf makes a lot more sense because it’s easier to maintain during inclement weather.

Another element in the design of the school is using natural light. Hays said that the Environmental Club is working with staff to be sure they use artificial lights only when they’re absolutely necessary. Hays said that some lights in the school may never be turned on because they’ll never be needed.

Visitors to the new high school might look around and think that some parts of the building look crude and unfinished. This is by design, explained Crane. They call this Building as a Learning Tool (BLT), when they leave some of the design elements exposed so that students can tour around the building and learn basic architecture and design principles.

Ward explained that her firm is working on putting together a building energy model that will be used to compare the level of energy efficiency the building should achieve against how much energy the building actually is using. According to Ward, building LEED certified facilities may cost more upfront, but those expenses can be recouped by money saved in energy costs.


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