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Math and Science Center, Millbrook, New York, United States

Wednesday 31 Aug 2011

A model school

Jeffrey Totaro 
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Innovative LEED Gold school building acts as teaching tool 

A new 25,000 sq ft Math and Science Center at the Millbrook School in New York provides four discipline-specific science labs, independent project areas, five math classrooms, an IT suite and server room, faculty office suite and a free-standing greenhouse to accommodate the school's 250 students.

One of the School's missions is "stewardship of the environment." The Math and Science Center is their first building constructed with integrated sustainable design principles and is LEED Gold certified. Completed in 2008, this is one of the first academic structures in New York State to receive this designation. An integrated design process allowed the architects to collaborate with building operators including students, faculty and administrators, as well as all consultants to determine the needs and priorities for the program of the new building.

Project goals included seamlessly integrating a contemporary and sustainable addition into a traditional campus that made use of technology where appropriate to enhance learning. The new center was designed to be a teaching tool, encouraging occupants to explore the building functions and to witness their impact on its performance. Because the design process was inclusive and holistic, the school's population is very much interested in their impact on the environment and has also informed the campus on how to best utilize the building.

Another goal of the project was to locate the new building within close proximity to the existing natural marshes and school zoo, allowing for lessons to easily expand beyond the walls of the building. The zoo is the only one in the country located at a high school. It provides a unique opportunity for learning and engagement with the students and community of Millbrook.

The building sits on a previously disturbed site, and thus does not impact the natural state of the campus. Paths and walkways are designed to further incorporate the new building with the existing campus, promoting community connectivity. Parking is shared with the adjacent arts center. The building operates in a boarding school setting and as such there is very minimal day-to-day vehicular use as students and faculty alike walk or bike to class.

Occupants are witness to how the building operates. Daylight and views are integral to both energy efficiency and creating the highest quality educational environment - all lecture rooms, labs and offices receive natural lighting from at least two directions. High efficiency light fixtures are coupled with daylight harvesting sensors and dimming ballasts to automatically control energy consumption. Energy efficiency is also achieved by utilizing a geothermal heating and cooling system. The sixteen 500-ft closed-loop wells transfer heat energy at a percentage of the operating cost of a standard system. Further energy savings are gained by natural ventilation in the fall and spring, and by passive solar heat gain in colder months.

In addition, the facility benefits from further sustainable measures such as solar hot water heating, an array of photovoltaic cells and a display at the main entry showing how much of the building's power has been generated from the sun. Didactics displayed throughout the building indicate the less obvious sustainable design strategies such as the geothermal system and raise consciousness about the impact of living practices such as drinking from water fountains or opening windows when appropriate. Although not required to have meters on each of their buildings, the school has installed electricity and water meters to monitor their use.

The school has been recording consumption monthly to allow comparison against the building's energy model. The photovoltaic system includes a monitoring system to record and track its performance, which also provides a public display to show the amount of electricity it is generating at a given time and over its history. Since the project was completed, entrance applications have increased by 30%. This project represents the first steps the school is taking to incorporate sustainable elements on campus to existing buildings and new construction.


Urging students to be stewards of the natural world is one of the five core values in Millbrook School’s mission and has been since its founding in 1931. It is part of the campus culture and the school is naturally proud of what the new building stands for and appreciate the outdoor/indoor feel of its design.

Building occupants, including students, have been educated on how to successfully operate the building and utilize natural ventilation, daylight and views to reduce energy consumption, and also take advantage of efficient building features to reduce water use. Students have been enthusiastic about learning how the building operates and how their actions affect its performance. They can then relay this information to their community and educate them on the importance of being conservative with energy consumption.


The new sustainable building incorporates state of the art technology for teaching, including smart boards, but also reminds the students each and every day that saving energy, using recycled and reusable materials, and reducing their carbon footprint are all of vital importance.

Energy efficiency is achieved in the building’s mechanical system by utilizing a geothermal heating and cooling system. The sixteen 500-ft closed-loop wells quietly and cleanly transfer heat energy to and from the earth at a percentage of the operating cost of a standard boiler and chiller system.


The Math and Science Center was designed to be cost-efficient for the school. The cost savings is dependent on a few factors. For example, if the school spent $400,000 for the ground coupled heating and cooling system, over what an oil-fired hot water system would have cost, depending on the cost of fuel oil, and the weather, however, they could expect a payback of 7-10 years in heating and cooling costs.

The new building is saving the school $30-$45,000 per year on energy bills, and is not burning any fuel oil in heating or cooling this building. The school can opt for renewable energy through their energy provider, or by purchasing Renewable Energy Credits.

The energy model predicted a 58% annual reduction in energy use, from 2,050 MBtu to 871 MBtu. In comparison, the actual annual energy use for the fiscal year 2009-2010 was within 10% of the modeled value, at 962 MBtu. For this same fiscal year, the building’s actual energy bills were $32,012, which is a 64% improvement over the modeled value $91,098.


Sustainable elements are conspicuously located throughout the building. The roof features both a solar hot water heating system and an array of photovoltaic cells for generating electricity for the building. A display at the main entry shows all entering the building how much power is being generated from the sun.

Water use is economized by collecting rainwater from the roof into an interior cistern that is visible from the main stair and by installing flushless urinals in the restrooms. A vegetated roof over the flat roof of the science corridor is readily visible from the floor above. Sustainable and natural material choices, such as concrete flooring, slate, wool carpet, wood fiber ceilings, low VOC paints, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified woods and furniture made with recycled materials, create an interior that fits the school's character while respecting the environment.

The building design furthers energy savings by allowing for natural ventilation of the building in the fall and spring, and absorbing the sun's energy in the colder months. The standing-seam metal roof has a special finish that minimizes the heat absorbed in the hot summer months.


Entrance applications increased by 30% since the Math and Science building was completed. Integrated design involved everyone in the process of creating this building. Students have been enthusiastic about learning how the building operates and how their actions affect its performance.

In March 2011 the school participated in creating 'blackout' activities to raise awareness on the importance of conserving energy. The school began with one of the lowest baselines for kilowatt usage in the northeast and took 2nd place in the Green Cup Challenge.

Recognizing the importance of daylight and views to both energy efficiency and creating a good learning environment, all learning spaces and offices receive natural lighting from large windows in at least two directions and are coupled with high efficiency light fixtures coupled with daylight harvesting sensors and dimming ballasts to automatically control energy consumption.

Facilities personnel and school occupants were trained in how the building operates.

Key Facts

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Voith & Mactavish Architects LLP

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