Courant: At Environmental Magnet School, A Top Award For Energy Efficiency
At Environmental Magnet School, A Top Award For Energy Efficiency
$42 Million Overhaul Brings Waterfall, Butterflies To City School Follow Your Town News On
by Vanessa De La Torre
October 05, 2011
©The Hartford Courant
HARTFORD — Waiting in the school office for a talk with the principal has never felt this soothing.
In full view is a waterfall, the centerpiece of a 3,600-gallon pond filled with dozens of koi in the towering, sunlit lobby of the Mary Hooker Environmental Sciences Magnet School.
Nearby is an aquatics laboratory with 50 freshwater and salt water tanks that mimic conditions in places such as Long Island Sound — complete with oysters and a horseshoe crab — and the Connecticut River and the Caribbean Sea.
Down the hall is a planetarium with a 28-foot digital projection dome, which is feet away from the greenhouse that grew the vegetables that were sauteed for the students’ pasta lunch on Friday.
The “green” features are all integrated into the school’s curriculum, but they also serve another purpose: the South End school was certified last week as LEED platinum, the highest national rating for eco-friendly buildings and the first public school in the state awarded the distinction.
The U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit coalition based in Washington, D.C., that administers the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design ranking system, lists fewer than two dozen K-12 public and private schools in the country that are housed in “platinum,” energy-efficient buildings.
Only two other edifices in Connecticut have the top rating and they’re at Yale — the university’s Sculpture Building and the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.
When Hooker Principal Peter Dart revealed the honor over the school announcement system, he said, the students’ cheers could be heard throughout the building.
BL Companies, an architectural-engineering firm based in Meriden, designed the $42 million overhaul of the old Sherbrooke Avenue neighborhood school after getting the job in late 2007. At first, the team strived for LEED gold, a mark just below platinum, said Christopher Roof, the project manager and architect.
But as the renovation came closer to being done — a feat that reused 99.7 percent of the walls, flooring and roofing from the original 1952 building and added 30,000 square feet — “we mobilized the team to see if we could get the last few points to push us over the limit to platinum,” Roof said.
PDS Engineering & Construction, Inc., of Bloomfield oversaw the construction. The Mary Hooker School reopened with the new magnet theme in 2010.
Overall, the green features are designed to provide up to 43 percent worth of energy savings.
“It was the opportunity of a lifetime, really, to do this job,” said Roof, who now operates his own West Hartford firm, Phoenix Architectural Management.
In its reincarnation, the pre-K to grade 8 school faces Broadview Terrace and is one of the top magnet programs in Hartford. There are 360 students, with space for 660, and the enrollment is split between city and suburban children as part of the Sheff desegregation agreement.
Beyond the indoor pond, and the lobby’s electronic kiosk that gives live updates on the building’s energy consumption, is a butterfly vivarium where students and the school’s resident entomologist raise insects and Monarch butterflies.
The vivarium and greenhouse use mulch that in a previous cycle was the school’s cafeteria scraps, composted in outdoor “earth bins.” Starting in prekindergarten, students learn to scrape their leftover food into compost buckets by the trash cans, Dart said, where educators hope they ponder why they didn’t eat more of their lunch, “or why didn’t you take less of it.”
Classrooms are equipped with solar sensors that control how much artificial light can be turned on to supplement the daylight. Expansive windows are designed to connect children to the outdoors when they’re inside, a contrast to the nearly windowless Weaver High School in the North End that Superintendent Christina Kishimoto has likened to a prison.
Even the electrical and furnace rooms in the basement have windows so students can see where their energy comes from. On the roof — white to reflect sunlight and keep the building cooler during the hot months — are solar panels and a weather station. At least 35 percent of the building’s electricity usage is from renewable resources.
Wildflowers and native grasses landscape the school and depend on rainfall for sustenance. The outdoor lights are concentrated downward to reduce light pollution in the neighborhood, and in the parking lot, there are spots reserved for fuel-efficient and carpool vehicles.
Elsewhere in the state, Choate Rosemary Hall, the private boarding and day school in Wallingford, began construction earlier this year on a $20 million environmental center designed to LEED platinum standards by the architect Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture.
The Kingswood Oxford School’s $13 million Chase-Tallwood Science Math Technology Center has been named a LEED gold building after opening on the West Hartford campus in 2009.