$350,000 savings from eco-alternative

22 May 2013

Hotchkiss School educates young students with integrated Biomass Heating Facility

Centerbrook Architects and Planners are celerating the success of a newly completed Biomass Heating Facility at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT. The eco-friendly energy source has already saved the school $350,000 in comparison to using fuel oil with lower emissions for this sustainability-focused institution. The building also is designed to double as an ancillary classroom, exposing its sustainable materials and operations to students and visitors. It is slated for LEED Silver.

The exterior design embodies seemingly contradictory missions: creating an arresting presence to beckon visitors, while simultaneously not upstaging the building’s pristine environs at the periphery of an independent school’s campus. Sited at the bottom of a sloping landscape, between woods and wetlands on one side and a golf course on the other, the building presents a low and undulating profile.

The 16,500 sq ft structure is capped by a vegetated roof that is the color of surrounding flora, helping it harmonize further with the landscape - almost disappearing from some vantage points. It houses gritty infrastructure: a biomass facility that burns sustainably-harvested woodchips to heat the Hotchkiss School with its more than 600 residents and 85 buildings that total 1.2 million sq ft.

Designated a carbon neutral fuel by the International Panel on Climate Change, the locally sourced wood chips are the byproduct of sustainably managed forests; they replace some 150,000 gallons of imported fuel oil per year, cutting emissions overall, most dramatically sulfur dioxide by more than 90%. Waste ash is collected for use as fertilizer for vegetable gardens tended by the students. The biomass facility is an integral part of the school’s commitment to becoming a carbon-neutral campus by 2020.

Centerbrook Architects, led by Partner Jefferson. B. Riley, FAIA, determined with the client that infrastructure need not be dreary, inside or out. This furnace dwelling was designed to do double duty as a living classroom. It exposes ecologically friendly technologies and sustainable construction materials to touring students and community groups. Along the mezzanine walkway, which overlooks and circumnavigates the boiler room, an informal exhibit displays explanatory charts and maps, while a series of interactive computer consoles track performance metrics.

The building’s trusses are glue-laminated timber, which optimises the structural values of this renewable resource. Glulam has less embodied energy than reinforced concrete or steel and can be used for much longer spans, heavier loads, and complex shapes. Outside, visitors can follow a nature path that affords views of the green roof, which absorbs and filters rainwater runoff; they also can observe a rain garden, bioswales, and nearby wetlands.

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