Designing a Net Zero School


In 2015, the City of Cambridge committed to a 25-year Net Zero Action Plan, with the goal of transforming the City into a Net Zero community by 2040. The King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools and Community Complex (KOCSUSCC) is one of the City’s first projects to be built under this ambitious mandate. The school and public library anchor the complex on a major urban street, reflecting the City’s commitment to sustainable and resilient municipal buildings.

Historically, Net Zero buildings have been relatively small compared to the 273,000 sf KO/CSUS and Community Complex due to the limitation of current on-site power generating technologies. The project team, which included Arrowstreet as the architect of record, was tasked with balancing the project's large size, public bid process, multiple user groups, long hours of operation, and a highly-engaged citizenry.

Completed in August 2019, the Community Complex is the first Net Zero Emissions and first LEED v4 Platinum school in Massachusetts. The 273,000 sf complex is home to an elementary school, middle school, pre-school, school district administration, public library, public pools, after school programs, human services programs, underground parking garage, and 2 acres of open space.

This 21st century learning lab sets a new standard for school design and high-performing buildings. By providing a highly efficient envelope, advanced building systems, and a 190 geothermal well field, the complex boasts an EUI of 25. The photo-voltaic array covering 74,070 sf of the roof achieves 60% on-site power generation with the remaining energy demand provided by purchased green power. In addition, the project is 100% electric, resulting in both a carbon and emissions-free building.

Geothermal wells, together with the use of photovoltaic panels, provide the project with over half of the energy demand for the entire site. In order to maximize that amount of on-site renewable energy the school and community complex was able to produce, the design team tirelessly laid out well locations across every inch of the site that they could, with the final tally coming in at 190. A similar effort was undertaken for the project's PV arrangements, with 3,516 panels on the roof and acting as shading devices over the windows.

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