Olympia School District’s newest school, the Olympia Regional Learning Academy on Boulevard Road, may be the most energy efficient school ever built in Washington, according to contractor Drew Phillips.
Designed as a “net-zero” building, the 66,000-square-foot structure will draw less energy from the grid than it produces on site when all of its eco-friendly bells-and-whistles are in place.
The school district’s project manager Kurt Cross and Phillips, principal with Forma Construction, have been keeping tabs on the building’s rating using the Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol, which is a planning tool related to site, water, materials, energy and other areas.
In order to meet the state’s standard, a building must achieve 45 of 119 points.
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So far, ORLA has achieved 72 points, Cross said.
The school is scheduled to open in February, and features:
• Geothermal heating generated through a series of wells that create a ground-loop, heat-pump system. Basically energy from the ground will be used to heat and cool the building.
“We have 50 wells that are 300 feet deep,” Cross said. “That’s kind of a battery for this school.”
• A rooftop that will hold photovoltaic panels to generate solar electricity. The solar panels haven’t been purchased yet, but when they are, the installation will be much easier because the school was built to accommodate them, Cross said.
• About 18 skylights including ones that borrow light for rooms without exterior walls.
• LED lights throughout the building, and “smart” fixtures that automatically dim when enough natural light is detected in a room.
• Rain gardens that collect and filter storm run-off.
• Three outdoor classrooms. (These are areas that are similar to rooftop gardens, with walls that are too high for students to climb over.)
• About 50 percent more insulation than what’s required by law, Cross said.
• Some reused building materials, including a few large, $10,000 beams that were salvaged from the modernization of Garfield Elementary School on Olympia’s west side, according to Phillips.
The $20 million, two-story school was designed for about 600 students. It has 27 classrooms, and a commons area that doubles as a cafeteria and a performing arts center.
ORLA currently operates out of the former John Rogers Elementary School, and serves about 500 students in preschool through grade 12.
It consists of three programs: hConnect, resources, classes and support for home-school families; iConnect, an online school for grades 6-12; and ORLA Montessori — the school’s newest and fastest-growing program — for children from preschool to sixth grade.
ORLA was founded in November 2006.
“We started at Saint John’s Church with 30 students in two programs,” said ORLA administrator Joy Walton Kawasaki. “I didn’t know how large it would grow.”
Besides being environmentally sound, the new school was designed to accommodate ORLA’s specific community, which includes a large number of home-school families.
For instance, there is a room for infants to sleep and a special play area for toddlers because home-school parents must stay on site while their elementary-school-age children takeORLA classes, Walton Kawasaki said.
Instead of a traditional library, the school will have a large “curriculum resource center” where home-school families can check out textbooks and other materials.
“We have a really high volume of parents that are on site every day,” Walton Kawasaki said.