How to Push for Advancements in Building Performance

RANDOLPH, N.J. — Designing schools to be more sustainable continues to be part of the standard in the school building and design industry, especially when it comes to building performance. As more architects find innovative techniques to set the bar, other designers take it one step further.

As the race to see who can create the greenest school continues, School Construction News spoke with Jason Chmura, AIA, LEED AP, an associate at Princeton, N.J.-headquartered KSS Architects, about his work as a leader of the firm’s Sustainability Design Practice Group. In a slew of recent projects, Chmura pushed for advancements in building performance, equipment, and energy use in both K-12 and higher education projects. Here he discusses current trends and advantages to building green.

Q: What sustainable educational facility projects are you currently working on?

The Gottesman RTW Academy in Randolph N.J., features sunshades, photovoltaics and rain gardens.

Chmura: We recently completed a facility for the Gottesman RTW Academy in Randolph. The project featured site-harvested stone, sunshades, photovoltaic panels and rain gardens. It features a number of monitoring systems that help frame the curriculum for Pre-K-8 students. We have a grand opening for Rutgers University’s Express Newark facility in Newark, N.J., next week, which is a 43,000-square-foot reuse of a 100-plus-year-old department store in downtown Newark. The project is significant as to its social sustainability, whereupon the symbiotic uses of the building as commercial, educational and residential will contribute to its long-term success and reactivation of the neighborhood.

We also wrapped up a 120,000-square-foot charter school for KIPP New Jersey also in Newark this September, which implemented a substantial energy recovery system as part of the HVAC design. This had immense cost savings for the project in addition to contributing to the efficiency of the building. There were savings both to the mechanical and plumbing systems as a result, but also the structural system(s) as we significantly decreased the sizes of the rooftop units.

Currently, I am overseeing the rehab of a 100-year-old former trolley barn to serve as a new gymnasium, which again reuses an existing, aging structure to provide new facilities for a school. The project features porous (pervious concrete) for stormwater control and a (Kalwall) panelized insulated glazing system.

Q: How do these projects reflect the national trend of building educational facilities to be more environmentally sustainable?

Chmura: If I had to speak to a trend, I would note the increase in the reuse of existing structures, especially in an urban environment. A component of the LEED rating system since its inception, building reuse is an often-overlooked attribute with huge potential. Not only are you decreasing (eliminating) landfill waste, you stand to reinvigorate and activate sites and buildings that may be standing vacant. Further, many of our clients are actually looking beyond the cost savings — which are often in favor of new construction — to find sites that will both benefit from development and help support the mission of the school.

Q: What key advantages do schools have when they are built to sustainable standards?

Chmura: When the standards are implemented to prescribe occupant comfort or wellness, it’s a no-brainer. There are plenty of studies that link student participation, faculty performance and overall achievement with healthy learning environments. Additionally, when the design and technology that are part of sustainable design are analyzed and become part of the curriculum, it has an effect on the students like nothing else.

Q: What are the top three sustainable-building recommendations you have for schools that want to be more efficient on a budget?

Chmura: Integrate daylight harvesting and energy recovery systems, and use salvaged or reused materials.

Q: What do you believe is the future of sustainable educational facility projects?

Chmura: The most successful educational facilities will rely on heavy incorporation of high-performance technology into their curriculum. The next generation of students will continue to crave hands-on learning experiences. Sustainable design will become a necessity, and young minds will thrive in an environment where they are fully immersed in their own laboratory throughout the day.