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Elementary School Building Committee ponders space concepts, energy options

by | Dec 16, 2022 | Education

Elementary School Building Committee members on Tuesday looked at planning concepts for possible Grades 2-3 and Grades 2-3-4 buildings on Elm Street and Hayden Rowe as part of their work related to a potential replacement for Elmwood School.

Robert Bell, the principal in charge/educational programmer at architectural firm Perkins Eastman, showed different space arrangements such as a Main Street/village style and other designs referred to as crossroads and pinwheel.

He also described setups that would have the media center as a central hub or a gathering space located in the main entrance area, to name two examples.

Bell and others emphasized that the “visioning” group of townspeople outlined what they wanted the school to have such as a warm/welcoming and safe space, small neighborhoods of learning, flexibility and adaptability, an outdoors/indoors connection and breakout and varied spaces.

Committee member Lya Batlle-Rafferty, who also serves on the School Committee, said it would be important for the principal, teachers and staff to express why the design would be a certain way and ensure they were comfortable with it.

She noted that the community is very supportive of educators and would want staff to be in a space with features they chose. “I think hearing from them would be beneficial.”

Said Elmwood Principal Anne Carver: “Everything that has been hypothetically shared so far has been in line with the dreams we have.”

John Graziano, committee chair, pointed out that the designs must coincide with the educational plan that has been submitted to the Massachusetts School Building Authority, authored by school administrators.

Carver reinforced Batlle-Rafferty’s point about building components, saying, “Having an educator’s voice will help non-educators to understand why some unusual stuff (they may see) makes sense.”

Jeff D’Amico, project director with the engineering firm Vertex, said the focus for the next few months is on the “geometry” of the building and the spatial relationships and how the layout is on site. He said he and his staff would be collecting feedback from educators along the way as they develop more detailed schematics.

Committee member Tim Persson, who is the School Department’s director of building and grounds, said they still have to go before town boards like the Design Review Board and Planning Board and “still have a long row to hoe,” on the project.

Energy options discussed

Committee members also were introduced to possible mechanical systems options, presented by representatives from Perkins Eastman and Vertex.

With both sustainability and cost in mind, the presentation focused on the pros and cons of various options: ground source pump/geothermal; air source variable refrigerant flow (VRF); and a hybrid of ground source/air source.

Additionally, a fourth alternative would be a more conventional design with natural gas heating/variable volume HVAC as found at Marathon Elementary School.

For example, the geothermal option has positives like the lowest energy consumption as well as operating and life cycles costs but challenges like premium first cost, the need to integrate into a floor plan and more distributed compressors and filters.

The VRF system, which uses air to do the exchange instead of earth, has a lower initial cost and is easier to integrate units into the floor plan and fewer distributed compressors but higher operating and life cycles, among other negatives.

A hybrid option comes with lower first costs, energy consumption, operating and life cycle costs and fewer emissions. Drawbacks would include the fact that more equipment controls are needed, there are more distributed compressors and filters required and a need to integrate units into the floor plan.

In addition to familiarity with the system, the “Marathon” option is easier to integrate roof top units into floor plans, requires fewer filters and compressors and has lower system first costs.

However, net zero energy does not apply to natural gas, and there are onsite gas emissions and higher operating costs.

Committee member Mike Shepard noted the reality is the school would cost $100 million and must pass Town Meeting. He said the community is going to want to know what the payback is for energy efficiencies.

He was assured that all that data would be presented to help voters make an informed decision.

The data presented was from numerous actual projects since 2012 the firm has done, including a Connecticut school and Boston Arts Academy.

It was noted Mass Save provides rebates on ground and air source systems, and the Inflation Reduction Act gives direct pay to tax-exempt entities for green energy investments. However, those financial incentives come after the fact. First, the town must invest in the building of the school.

Committee members took a quick survey on their phones to determine their priorities. Their top three results were low EUI (energy use intensity), acoustics and indoor air quality.

Graziano said that in January, members would get a better sense of the options when specific cost information is attached.

The next meeting is set for Jan. 3, although next Tuesday the committee will appear before the Select Board to provide an update.

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