As if building a new school wasn’t complicated enough, here’s something else Concord must accomplish when it replaces Rundlett Middle School: Contribute as little as possible to the global environmental catastrophe.
Because any new school will exist for at least three decades (Rundlett dates back to 1957), decisions made now will affect the planet as today’s students grapple with middle age and Earth faces increase. temperature of 1.5 degrees C or more. With the city’s ambitious clean energy goals in mind, a new Rundlett school should do as little as possible to contribute to this dire scenario – by being ‘net zero’ from day one, which means that it can produce as much energy as it uses, or by being constructed in such a way that it easily becomes net zero as technology improves.
Concord City Council has set a goal of having 100% renewable electricity throughout the city by 2030 and 100% renewable heating and cooling by 2050. Even though the Concord School District is a separate entity from the city, a new college is likely to be the first major project in Concord since these goals were announced. If it does not succeed, it would bode well for city-wide goals and the school district realizes it.
âWe want this to dovetail perfectly with what the city does,â said Matt Cashman, facilities director for the Concord School District. He noted that City Councilor Rob Werner, the contact person for Concord’s Clean Energy Push, is expected to exchange ideas with the school board at this group’s meeting on October 4.
Fortunately, creating a building that does not need outside energy is not as extreme a goal as it may seem.
âIt’s an idea that’s been around for some time. The last decade or so has seen him grow; there are now many examples of net zero energy buildings, not to mention net zero consumer loans, âsaid Paul Leveille, whose title is the high performance buildings coordinator with Concord-based Resilient Buildings Group. âIt has evolved because the technology has evolved. Heat pumps become more efficient, lighting becomes more efficient and the efficiency of solar electricity increases. â¦ And (solar) is certainly less expensive; that’s the big news these days, the cost.
âThe extra work that this entails (in the design) is to do energy modeling. â¦ You ask simulation questions – what if we did better insulation, better windows, like that – and model all the simulation scenarios until you get the final energy intensity that you are looking for. It’s actually not much more work, âhe said.
While the idea of ââreplacing Rundlett has been under discussion for a decade, these are the early days for development details. Notably, the school board has not decided on three basic questions: whether the new school will include 5th grade; whether they will replace the current school or build elsewhere; and whether the school will in any way partner with the YMCA.
It’s hard to make long-term environmental decisions without this information, Chapman said: âThe footprint pretty much determines everything. “
For example, geothermal energy. These systems circulate fluids through underground pipes to harness the earth’s constant temperature and can dramatically reduce the energy required for air conditioning and heating systems. This is an obvious choice for a large building like a school but until a location is chosen who knows if this will be feasible for the new Rundlett?
Decisions will have to be made fairly quickly. The district wants to submit a letter of intent for the very large state aid for the construction of education by January 21, 2022 and will have to submit its official request by July 1 to get the money, Cashman said.
Money is, of course, essential. Net zero construction is often more expensive to start with, and while it can save money in the long run due to lower fuel costs, the initial cost usually determines the decisions of voters and elected officials.
One question is whether financial support for net zero construction will come from the federal government through the infrastructure bill. It would make things a lot easier.
In its simplest form, building a net zero consumption building is like making an energy efficient building, plus solar panels.
âThe first step is really conservation: don’t use energy if you don’t need it. Then the efficiency measures: where you use energy, use it efficiently, âsaid Leveille. “Once you’ve done two things really well, you’ve got the load so small that you can explore using some kind of renewable energy system to power it up and reach net zero.”
Because there is no renewable way for a building to produce a substitute for natural gas or fuel oil, net zero means the school will have to be fully electric, including the heating system.
Electric heat pumps, which move heat between the interior and exterior of buildings rather than creating new sources of it, have improved to be efficient even in the New Hampshire climate and are an important part of many clean energy programs. Massachusetts, for example, aims to have one million homes using electric heat pumps by 2030.
There is also a secondary desire to minimize âembedded carbonâ in the final building, a measure that reflects the amount of greenhouse gases released during construction.
âRight now it’s a push in the industry. We know very well how to build energy efficient buildings. People say the next thing to look at is how much energy goes into building materials, âLeveille said.
Lifecycle assessment software and other tools are being developed to estimate things like the carbon reduction you would get by replacing steel beams with cross-laminated timber.
Adding to the complexity: reusing an existing building rather than building a new one is almost always better from an integrated carbon perspective. It seems unlikely, however, that Concord would attempt to upgrade the existing Rundlett Middle School building, in part because it would be difficult to netzero it.
âAt the end of the day, everything revolves around our values. If you own a building and are looking to build a building, what is important to you, what are your priorities? Â»Said LÃ©veillÃ©.
âWe want to do what’s right,â Cashman said. “We have to be completely transparent all the time, from the start, about the process.”
(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or [email protected] or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)