By Daedalus Howell
RALEIGH, N.C. — Although school started Aug. 14 at Exploris School — a Raleigh-based elementary and middle school spread over two campuses — the real excitement won’t begin until this time next year. Slated to open in August 2018, the school will debut its new $65 million, 10-story building project that will be the first energy-positive (producing more energy than it uses) high-rise building in the United States, according to the developers.
North Carolina’s capital city, Raleigh is lauded for its universities and technology and institutions such that, with neighboring cities Chapel Hill and Durham, the area is known as the Research Triangle. The Exploris School, a charter school founded in 1997, makes a fine complement to this tradition with its curricula based on experiential, project-based learning and a philosophy that privileges relationship-based education and sustainability. These core values were echoed by locally based SfL+a Architects, which designed the school’s new building.
SfL+a has designed other LEED Gold– and Platinum–certified educational facilities, including Luber Bridge, N.C.-based Sandy Grove Middle School, which was the nation’s first energy positive, LEED Platinum–designed public school.
The added space of the new Exploris School building, otherwise known as the City Gateway, will allow the institution to combine its elementary and middle schools into a single campus location. This will also permit enrollment to increase from about 420 to 650 students, reported the New Observer, a Raleigh-area newspaper.
The school acquired 5.5 acres in downtown Raleigh (near the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts) in May 2016 for $4.4 million. Of the 10 stories, the school will occupy the 53,000 square feet in the renovated building’s ground floor, whereas the floors above will be leased for commercial uses but available should the school need to expand in the future.
The school is wrapping up the permitting process, hoping to break ground this mid-November. About 50 percent of the building is leased to commercial interests, though the project’s organizers are pushing for 70 percent of capacity prior to its launch.
“The Exploris School is just a fantastic school,” said SfL+a Principal Barry Buckman. “Their whole philosophy as a school is very much geared around community involvement and awareness of what’s going on and being connected to the world around them. They’re a very outward-reaching school, which really fits in an urban context — their science classroom is the Natural Science Museum; their art classroom is the North Carolina Museum of Art. They’re out there experiencing things in a way a traditional public school isn’t able to do based on their settings.”
Besides taking advantage of the urban environment, the building will also make use of the surrounding environment. There will be a solar array as well as myriad energy-saving technologies including geothermal heating and cooling systems that will use subterranean pipes to heat water in the winter and keep it cool during the summer months.
The building will also boast a variety of data-collecting tools that will track information produced by the building’s systems. A central computer will analyze data to recognize energy and water consumption. Buckman said they also plan to capture data on the inhabitants of the building.
“We will be collecting metrics on student and faculty performance as well as office users,” said Buckman. “We’ll all be guinea pigs in this experiment when we move in there and try to figure out how a building of this nature can actually impact how we perform.”
Buckman observed that the new Exploris School project will function as a microcosm of its surrounding community.
“We’re trying to figure out how to use advance technologies to breakdown the traditional barriers that will be there so that people will be able to move about the campus more freely but still be connected and still be able to uses all the pieces and parts that are there at their disposal,” he said.