Elementary School Marks First LEED Campus in Alaska

WASILLA, Alaska — An elementary school in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District in south-central Alaska is the state’s first LEED-certified school.
Fred and Sara Machetanz Elementary School was designed and built under recently adopted district policies that require all new construction of public facilities to achieve LEED certification.
Designed by McCool Carlson Green of Anchorage and built by Collins Construction Co. of Wasilla, the 54,000-square-foot, $13 million school is built of compact materials with at least 30 percent recycled content. The new campus is situated on a reclaimed gravel pit.
“When you look at it, it’s not going to jump out at you as a green building,” says Jason Gamache, intern architect on the project and McCool Carlson Green’s sustainability coordinator.
In addition to possessing few external indicators of a green building, such as solar panels and shading devices, the structure has tall, multi-purpose clear spaces, Gamache says.
Situated in a unique area with mountains shading the school on one side, Machetanz Elementary is designed with all classrooms facing south to receive the best natural lighting and reduce dependency on electric lighting during the day hours. Additionally, designers used daylight sensors throughout the school to turn off or dim lights automatically when sufficient light levels are present.
Throughout the school, a variety of design strategies are employed to reduce energy consumption. Mechanical and electrical distribution rooms are located in the center of the two-story building, reducing distribution costs and energy loss by giving resources less distance to travel. Furthermore, architects increased the building envelope, heavily insulating wall cavities with R21 insulation made of recycled content and continuous insulated sheathing to prevent thermal bridging.
In addition to a remarkable 30 percent recycled or rapidly renewable content and little or no VOCs, the school had 10 percent of its building materials manufactured locally. It features windscreens designed to echo exterior tile work and a three-story atrium outfitted with a large ceiling fan capable of pushing warm air towards the large multi-purpose room at its bottom or, in cooler seasons, drawing warm air away. And, while situated in an arid climate, Machetanz Elementary features a specialized filtration media to reduce potential mold development and keep the air quality high.
The 500-student school sits on a former gravel pit donated to the school district. Although not considered a brownfield and not requiring mediation, the site was largely unused and bare until the school, stormwater management features and vegetation were added, Gamache says.
A statewide leader in the design of green structures, McCool Carlson Green Architects currently is working on seven projects seeking LEED certification and has three LEED-accredited professionals on staff. Gamache was joined by project architect John Weir and project designer Michael Carlson in developing Machetanz Elementary.
The Matanuska-Susitna district’s new Su Valley High School is seeking LEED certification to become Alaska’s second LEED-certified school.