Massachusetts school buildings are achieving net zero as emerging climate-friendly technologies drive Massachusetts curricula. The MSBA, in partnering with so many Massachusetts school districts, gains a view of the priorities in building design that accommodate educational initiatives, and thus the MSBA gains a glimpse of the future, that it was able to share with Massachusetts school districts during its seminar on December 2nd, 2021 entitled, MA Schools Embrace a Sustainable Future on climate resilience and environmental sustainability. Working together with educators who envision the skillset young people in Massachusetts will need to meet the challenges of our collective future, in the seminar the MSBA featured school buildings which embody this educational vision.
Adele Sands, Superintendent of the Bristol County Agricultural School, presented concrete examples of how students are already participating in the development of solutions for tomorrow’s problems. True to their school’s agrarian legacy, Bristol County Agricultural students spend part of everyday outdoors and bring vital aspects of the outdoors into their curriculum and academic projects. Students participate in the protection of rare species and their re-introduction into the wild. They study emerging technologies to maintain water quality, the earth’s soil, the wellbeing of large, domestic animals resident on farms, and new technologies for the management of sustainable farming in the developing world.
Their new school building design was showcased, which allows them to intervene positively in the protection of rare species, supporting the different climatic conditions of labs for work with rare turtles versus care for rare rabbits. The buildings themselves reflect and incorporate the school’s large, natural campus.
Ed Bouquillon, Superintendent-Director of Minuteman Regional Vocational Technical School, explained how technical and vocational education is so important to students today as they build expertise in the trades and technologies that will allow them to manage our region’s changing natural environment and climate. Young people were integrated into the design and construction of their new, state-of-the-art school building and campus, with a carefully designed physical plant to restore the flow of natural water courses, which the students monitor, and with high-tech greenhouses where the students grow the food that culinary arts students then serve in their new restaurant.
John Macero, Stoneham Superintendent explained how planning for the new, net-zero Stoneham High School reflects community consensus for a healthy future for Stoneham students. The new Stoneham High School, abutting the Middlesex Fells, one of the country’s first urban land preservation initiatives near a major city, will achieve net zero through technical features as well as careful attention to the use of the different spaces in the building. The design takes proven technologies and deploys them in creative ways to meet the goal of a net-zero high school.
On Cape Cod, where no one is ever too far from the ocean with its changing sea level and potential for powerful storms, but also for the future of wind energy for Massachusetts, students study the latest sustainable technologies, while maintaining the physical plant of the building itself, and being stewards of the building’s outdoor spaces and plantings. Superintendent-Director Robert Sanborn described the proud tradition of Cape Cod Regional Technical High School as a leading light in new environmental technologies to meet the challenges of the changing natural world.
From natural settings where nature is so present, the MSBA program then showcased urban spaces, where so many Massachusetts students live. Principal Matt Holzer of Boston Green Academy shared the tremendous energy and determination now emanating from Massachusetts’ largest city to address the related challenges of climate change and environmental justice. Students become empowered through participation in local application of global environmental trends, conducting research in topics from the impact of diesel buses on the asthma level of people who live along bus routes, to the natural environment of Boston Harbor and Boston’s Charles River.
Cambridge Construction Program Manager, Brendan Roy, shared the success within Cambridge’s urban environment in building Massachusetts’ first net-zero school, and now building a second one, that will additionally preserve green space, the tree canopy, and other features vital to urban living. The community is building schools that reflect the City’s environmental principles and priorities, and skill-sets taught as part of the educational program.
Neighboring Cambridge, Watertown also presents an urban environment with limited space for school building but has availed itself of roof-space and canopies to support solar arrays, allowing it to build two net-zero elementary schools. The new Watertown High School, now being designed, will is also expected to be net zero. Superintendent Deanne Galdston described the commitment of Watertown residents and municipal government to environmental goals, explaining how Watertown became a leader in this field. Because net-zero buildings often generate power through solar energy production, urban sites like the site of the Watertown High School, may pose difficulties since the site is tight and roof space alone is inadequate. as one cannot place solar panels on canopies over the parking lot, as is possible on a larger site. Moreover, high schools tend to consume more power to support their curriculum as well as in their role as a community space, than elementary schools. Watertown described the innovative design steps they are taking ideas they are considering to meet these challenges, such as carefully placed sun-shades that will not interfere with the solar energy production, and European technology new to this country that generates power from the building façade, that they expect will allow the high school to achieve net zero.
Superintendent Emily Parks of Westwood, which is fortunate to have extensive conservation land, described how the town is building its new school as a “school in the woods,” where the values of immersion in nature are reflected by the net-zero-ready design. Superintendent Bridget Gough of Walpole described how her town made the decision to pursue a net-zero design to reflect the values of the town for the educational future of its young people. Samuel Rippin, Brookline Deputy Superintendent of Administration and Finance, shared Brookline’s expertise in planning for net-zero solutions, and described the design work currently underway at its new Pierce Elementary School.
Buckner Creel, Project Manager for the Lincoln Public Schools, explained how the town, with its rich environmental history, bordering on Walden Pond, where Henry David Thoreau was one of the people to launch the American environmental movement, has come together to design and construct a net-zero elementary and middle school, while detailing the designs and strategies to be employed in preserving a beloved architectural structure.
Mechanical engineers Wayne Mattson, President of Griffith and Vary Consulting Engineers, and Dave Pereira, President of GGD Consulting Engineers, explained how their firms, which design mechanical systems in many Massachusetts schools, see the future unfolding, and the trends whereby an ever-larger percentage of all buildings in Massachusetts are being constructed as all-electric buildings. They explained the basic technology in air-source heat pumps (employing variable refrigerant flow), ground-source heat pumps, and solar energy technologies that allow Massachusetts schools to achieve net-zero goals.
The MSBA was fortunate to be joined, as well, in this program by Elizabeth Bennet, Associate Commissioner, and Lisa Sandler, Statewide Initiatives Coordinator for College, Career, and Technical Education of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), who set forth DESE’s commitment to remaining a leader in future-looking education, and who explained how curricula evolve to reflect emerging technologies, such as technologies that support net zero, especially in technical and vocational education.
Kim Cullinane, Senior Energy Efficiency Consultant at Eversource Energy, and Denise Rouleau, Lead Program Manager for New Construction at National Grid, both representing Mass Save, set forth the role of utilities including National Grid, Eversource, and others in bringing about a net-zero future, and explained incentives and guidance they offer, which have been instrumental in helping Massachusetts school districts achieve net zero.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority is committed to partnering with Massachusetts school districts in ways that achieve the best future for Massachusetts students. Please visit the PowerPoint presentations from the seminar HERE for more information on how Massachusetts school buildings are meeting their sustainability curriculum and building goals.
Overview and Materials:
Additional Documents Referenced:
Slide Presentation Links:
- Westwood Hanlon-Deerfield DW Seg-1
- Westwood Hanlon-Deerfield DW Seg-2
- Pierce Brookline MDS Sasaki
- Watertown HS Ai3
- Minuteman KBA - Design
- Minuteman KBA - Paying for Energy
- Cape Cod Regional DRA
- Lincoln School SMMA
- Boston Green Academy - Holzer MSBA Presentation
- Bristol Aggie MSBA 2021 [HMFH]
- Cambridge - Perkins Eastman Tobin Montessori and Vassal Lane Upper