by Eileen Weber
The Watkinson School in Hartford, the city’s only independent school founded in 1881, had a ground-breaking for their net-zero science facility on May 27th. San Francisco-based Project FROG designed the school’s Center for Science and Global Citizenship. This school building will be the first of its kind in New England. The construction date is scheduled for next week.
“The building [will be] as smart as the students and teachers in it,” said John Bracker, Watkinson’s Head of School. Some of the key elements in the design are a geothermal heating and cooling system as well as solar panels. Large glass windows will be incorporated into the design to trap in heat in the winter and block it out in the summer. The windows will also provide lots of natural light to cut down on electricity costs.
Bracker said that the school looked into updating its science building about five years ago. But conventional methods were too expensive. When the concept of going green for less money came up, the Board of Trustees gave the go-ahead.
“This will not only augment the way we teach but change the way we teach. The building will be as much a part of the curriculum as any other teaching tools,” said Bracker. In other words, in order for the school to teach about sustainability they have to be sustainable.
Bracker and Mark Miller, Project FROG’s CEO and Founder, were schoolmates. Having kept in touch over the years, Miller and Bracker got talking about green building and cost effective ways to do it. Once Bracker heard what Miller had been working on with environmentally friendly buildings in California, he wanted to know how he could bring that to Connecticut.
“Being green is so much more,” said Bracker. “It’s not just about how long it lasts but how it’s produced. That’s what broadens the direction of going green.”
According to Watkinson’s press release dated May 27, 2009, the three classrooms in the science building will occupy approximately 1,280 square feet featuring 75% energy-demand reduction, abundant natural light and glare control, superior air quality, fungible user technology, micro-climate customization and advanced climate controls in an easy to configure package.
Constructed of renewable or recyclable materials, this “smart” building kit, called FROG Zero, generates more energy within its footprint than is required to operate its systems. To support the linked but diverse curricula, the three classrooms will be adaptable to lecture, seminars, and lab-style instruction.
Adam Tibbs, President of Project FROG, said reality dictates the analysis on how they approach the materials involved in the building process. The approach is the same whether it’s a school, a museum, or an office building. But the variables are different based on specific needs.
“The biggest benefit of what we do,” he said, “is having a living, breathing example that [the students] can see the effects of and benefit from. We’re giving the students the tools in hand that will have a long-term impact.”
The Watkinson School was not the company’s first foray into building smart schools. It also wasn’t their first time in New England. At the U.S. Green Building Council’s 2008 Greenbuild International Conference and Expo in Boston, Project FROG presented their net-zero school kit and built it in six days on site. According to the company’s press release dated November 11, 2008, the demonstration project, the world’s first and only zero-energy building system, provided a commercially viable, rapidly deployable zero-energy building.
Project FROG has plans to build three or four more schools this summer in California and Hawaii. While most of their work is in California, they are interested in expanding to the rest of the country.
“The need for green building is expanding all over the world,” said Tibbs. “But we have to be careful because we also want to put out a quality product.”