The Kathleen Grimm School for Leadership and Sustainability at Sandy Ground is designed to be the first net-zero-energy school in New York City, and one of the first of its kind worldwide. Developed to harvest as much energy from renewable on-site sources as it uses annually, this bold education facility raises the bar for sustainable design in New York City and sets an example for the design of future schools. Located in Staten Island, the 68,000-square-foot school serves 444 students, from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.
The success of the Kathleen Grimm School is in the hands of its daily occupants. In a school typology this presents a seminal opportunity to educate and empower students, faculty, and staff. Designers engaged these parties early in the design process, holding biweekly meetings that also included the New York City School Construction Authority, New York School Foods, the NYC Department of Education, and the Division of School Facilities. The team brainstormed a wide range of solutions, from providing shared printer facilities between classrooms to designing a larger, more accommodating teachers’ lounge to discourage the overuse of electricity at teachers’ desks. Input from the community also helped to inform aesthetic considerations, including the design of the exterior facade.
Every aspect of the Kathleen Grimm School’s design contributes to achieving its net-zero-energy goal. A photovoltaic (PV) array wraps the building’s roof and south facade, providing the school’s primary source of energy in an iconic gesture that merges sustainability with architecture. The building also incorporates extensive passive design strategies. With an ample interior courtyard, the building’s massing and orientation on the site are optimized to take advantage of sunlight—not only for the solar array, but also to bring maximum natural light into each classroom.
To achieve sustainability through passive design decisions, the school’s gym, cafeteria, library, and administrative offices are positioned adjacent to the main entrance, while learning spaces are located on the north and south sides of the building to provide the optimal amount of daylight. The school’s ceilings, walls, and skylights are all calibrated to balance natural daylight with solar heat loss. South-facing classrooms have wide “eyebrows” which largely shade their view windows from direct sunlight while also serving to support additional PV panels. The north-facing classrooms benefit from taller punched windows which have the same glass area as south-facing rooms. Additional sustainable design features include a high-performance building envelope, a geo-exchange heating and cooling system, energy recovery ventilators, and demand control ventilation, all of which contribute to the school’s exceptional energy performance.
The Kathleen Grimm School presents a healthier future for New York City schools. Opened since September 2015, the project is already having a major impact. While not all NYC public schools can achieve net-zero energy usage, many of the sustainable design strategies first implemented at the Kathleen Grimm School are being applied to other New York City schools, and the SCA is updating its design standards as a result. Through technological and material innovation as well as invaluable user and client participation in the design process, the Kathleen Grimm School is the culmination of human-scaled decision-making, technical proficiency, lifelong learning, and ecological commitment.
The Kathleen Grimm School for Leadership and Sustainability at Sandy Ground presents a healthier future for New York City schools. Thanks to its integrated design, the building generates as much energy from renewable resources as it uses on an annual basis. Opened since September 2015, the project is already having a major impact. While not all NYC public schools can be Net Zero, some of the sustainable design strategies first implemented at the Kathleen Grimm School are being applied to other New York City schools, and the SCA is updating its design standards as a result. A commissioning agent will conduct a post-occupancy walk through to document any operational abnormalities. A designated team will meet monthly for three years to discuss and review the building’s energy performance as well as operation.