A Campus with No Carbon Footprints

Published on October 28th, 2011

With the goal of helping young men become leaders and innovators in a world destined to move beyond fossil fuels, South Kent School and Centerbrook Architects have accepted the Living Building Challenge (LBC): to establish an environmental campus that is totally heated and powered by the sun, grows enough food – year round and onsite – to feed the entire academic community, consumes no externally sourced water, and causes zero pollution.

South Kent’s Center for Innovation (CFI) is designed to serve the school’s educational needs as well as accommodate as many as 300 visitors for various community events. LBC has established the most rigorous environmental criteria of any building rating system, so rigorous in fact that only three projects worldwide have received the coveted LBC certification since it was launched in 2006.

Among the elements that will give the campus no carbon footprint are:

  • Photovoltaic panels for electricity
  • Solar thermal collectors for hot water
  • A solar bio-shelter that enables year-round agriculture
  • Permaculture landscaping and husbandry
  • Passive solar building design for heat and natural lighting
  • Natural ventilation
  • Super insulation
  • Collection of rainwater

When the CFI is generating more electricity than can be used, it will feed clean energy back to the community through a connection to the electrical grid. The only carbon combustion on campus will occur in a fireplace that occasionally burns wood, sustainably harvested on school property, to produce warmth and ambiance.

An independent high school in western Connecticut, South Kent engaged Centerbrook this summer to design the CFI to exemplify its ambitious commitment to environmental education and to serve as a working model of responsible use of natural resources. Augmenting the solar power arrays and serving as teaching tools will be onsite renewable energy generating systems, such as wind, hydro and geothermal technologies.

“The Center for Innovation is designed to provide a co-curriculum, or counterpoint, to our current course of studies, acting as a “venture campus” for the real-world applications of ideas and concepts,” said Head of School Andrew J. Vadnais. “The goal is to have students emerge as creative problem solvers – with a toolkit stocked full of 21st century survival skills.”

Bordering scenic Hatch Pond on a 128-acre addition to the existing South Kent campus, the Center for Innovation will consist of a cluster of academic buildings, organic gardens, organic orchards, a greenhouse, permaculture landscaping, husbandry facilities, and constructed wetlands for storm water treatment. The complex will support the main South Kent program, the local community, and other schools with an inter-disciplinary curriculum for science, the arts, sustainable practices, and ecology.

The first of three project phases calls for the cleanup and improvement of the former dairy farm site and the construction of two buildings. The Community Building will house a 300-seat, multi-purpose event space, visitor services, and food storage facilities; the Environmental Building will contain a science laboratory and a bio-shelter, which is a solar greenhouse that supports an indoor ecosystem. A new Technology Building, new farm buildings, and renovations to existing facilities are slated for development in future phases.

The new campus will surpass LEED Platinum certification in meeting LBC standards, whose requirements include building materials that are locally sourced, sustainably harvested or recycled, and responsibly manufactured. Appealing and innovative design, natural lighting, natural ventilation, super insulation, and respect for open space and existing natural ecosystems are also key elements of both regimens.

Centerbrook Partner Jim Childress, FAIA, is heading the design team, and Melissa Arminio, AIA and LEED AP, is the Project Manager. Centerbrook has designed 21 LEED certified or registered buildings, including two rated Platinum: Yale University’s Kroon Hall (with Hopkins Architects) and Health Care REIT’s national headquarters in Ohio (with Duket Architects). South Kent School offers college preparatory instruction to 177 boys in grades 9 through 12. Founded in 1923, its main campus is adjacent to the new Center for Innovation site.