The Schools of the Future

The Kathleen Grimm School for Leadership and Sustainability at Sandy Ground, also known as P.S. 62, is the first net-zero-energy school in New York City and one of the first in the world. A net-zero school is a school that generates as much energy as it uses. According to SOM, the firm that designed the building, P.S. 62 mainly uses large solar panels, of which they have 1,997, that cover the roof of the 68,000-square-foot, two-story building. The school is serving as the NYC School Construction Authority’s first “sustainability lab” and this exploration into ultimate sustainability will help the city achieve its ambitious global warming emissions goals.

Located in Staten Island, the design of P.S. 62 is very unique, and it incorporates many features to improve the environmental impact of the school. These added design elements focus on decreasing energy use and include things like the orientation of the courtyard-shaped building allowing it to take advantage of sunlight, for both natural lighting and the solar panels. A couple of other features included in the design are a greenhouse and vegetable garden and even a solar thermal system for hot water. The designers also put a lot of work into the interior, researching how the faculty and children used appliances and electricity inside the building. This research resulted in the addition of energy-efficient lights, low-energy kitchen equipment, and large hallways and classrooms positioned for maximum natural light.

P.S. 62 also incorporates sustainability into its curriculum, focusing on environmental science and allowing the students and teachers to learn by managing the building’s energy consumption. To keep the building net-zero, student engagement is critical, and energy consumption can be tracked through interactive screens throughout the building, which even includes competition between the grade levels. According the the school’s website, in Science class there are rows of stationary bikes which kids can use to power the building and at the same time learn about electricity and generators. Because P.S. 62 incorporates environmental science into the curriculum, the sustainability features of the building become an active part of a student’s learning, different from any other public school in New York.

Though P.S. 62 is the first net-zero school in New York, new net-zero schools are being built all over the country, and these K-12 schools are leading the way in what appears to be a new building trend. Net-zero schools are going up in every sort of district - urban and rural, affluent and lower income, Democratic and Republic, but they all have the same focus. As was the case with P.S. 62, the main reason for these net-zero schools being built was for environmental and economic reasons, but teachers have discovered that having a sustainable school provides other advantages. For instance, the Discovery Elementary School in Arlington, Virginia has worked sustainability and environmental science directly into their core curriculum, even more so than most schools. They have advanced touchscreen dashboards that provide detailed energy reports and even show 360-degree views of their school. Many schools, such as Unified in San Francisco, give students the responsibility of managing the school’s power, putting them in charge of things like checking waste and overall power usage, as well as coming up with new ideas to generate or reduce power.

The technologies P.S. 62 uses can also be applied to already built schools, including ours. Last year, City and Country used 120,000kwh of energy in the 13th Street Building and 90,000kwh of energy in the 12th Street Building. This amounts to 210,000kwh, resulting in over 250,000 pounds of carbon dioxide being released into the air. “C&C’s goal should be being eco-friendly, not hurting the environment,” said Lilly Meyer, a XIII. Many of our energy issue revolve around our lights, which are fluorescent, as well as other appliances we have around the school. However, if our school implemented some of the technologies used at P.S. 62, such as solar panels (albeit on a smaller scale), energy-efficient lighting, low-power kitchen equipment and natural light utilization, we could lower our energy consumption.

As we face growing issues and concerns about global warming and climate change, energy and power generation are consistently one of the biggest offenders and producers of harmful greenhouse gases. To fix these major issues, changes need to happen, which is why these net-zero buildings are so important. Schools are one of the best places to start as they already are responsible for 25% of our nation’s non-residential power, but there is a clear link between sustainability and a school. This is why the government has pushed school districts to focus on these innovative schools, resulting in almost 100 new net-zero school projects. New York City has ambitious goals regarding greenhouse gasses and climate change. They want to reduce emissions by 40%, energy consumption by 23%, and have 50% of all energy generation come from renewable sources, all by 2030. P.S. 62 is being used as a trial for net-zero buildings, and if it succeeds, it will be used as a blueprint for sustainable buildings in the city, and possibly across the country.

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