By George Harvey
Friends School of Portland is a independent Quaker school for preschool through eighth grade serving the area of Portland, Maine. Since its start, it has been on an island in Casco Bay connected to the mainland by a causeway. It is in Falmouth Maine, just north of Portland.
Perhaps a Quaker school on an island in Casco Bay sounds a bit unusual, but it does not tell the real story. This school is setting a standard in resilience, energy efficiency, and use of renewable power sources that are groundbreaking.
The school was founded about nine years ago, and has been in rented quarters since. They have not really been adequate to meet demand, and year by year, children have been turned away for lack of room. It was quickly clear the school needed its own quarters.
The school’s board had some interesting resources immediately available to help with a new building. Naomi Beal, the Chair of the Building Committee, is also director of PassivhausMaine, the state’s affiliate with the North American Passive House Network. This gave the committee immediate access to a wealth of information and expertise on energy efficiency and healthy environments.
In 2012, the school purchased twenty-one acres in a wooded area of Cumberland, Maine, the next town north of Falmouth. They quickly set about planning their new building. While a highly efficient school building was clearly a priority, it was unclear for a while whether any particular standard was to be used, let alone certification. Some people thought it a building at the cutting-edge for energy efficiency would cost too much.
Their first architects were specialists in conventional schools. These, however, were replaced by Kaplan Thompson Architects of Portland, who understood high performance efficiency standards. As the school continued to assemble their design and construction teams, however, it became more and more clear what the ultimate goal would be. They would go beyond the merely impressive and reach for the highest standard.
In the end, they decided the school building would be a net-zero-energy structure, and would also get Passivhaus certification. This made the Friends School of Portland one of the very few schools in the United States to achieve Passivehaus certification. It also made it the largest building in Maine to reach that level.
Unsurprisingly, this produced a learning experience for more than one organization involved. The builder, Warren Construction Group of nearby South Freeport, had experience with energy-efficient buildings, but had not worked on Passive House certified buildings. The same was true of Porter Building Systems of Gorham, Maine, the company that supplied the building’s panelized walls.
Walls are rated at R-47, and have dense-packed cellulose between studs with four inches of rigid insulation on the exterior. Two sections of the roof are of two different configurations, one having twenty-six inches of loose cellulose for R-91, and the other with dense-packed cellulose sheathed on the exterior with four inches of rigid insulation, for R-79. The foundation slab similarly has varying insulation. Windows are Intus Eforte triple-glazed uPVC units with a SHGC of 0.62 and a (glass only) U-factor of 0.1066.
Great energy efficiency in cold climates requires great air sealing, but that means ventilation needs to be carefully planned. Any efficient ventilation system recovers the heat from stale inside air and uses it to warm the colder, outside air it draws in. This is especially true in a building that will have a hundred people in it. The simple and relatively inexpensive RenewAire ventilation systems were the architects’ choice.
Heating is provided passively, mostly from what is given off by normal daily activity. A Daikin minisplit air-source heat pump system provides any extra heat needed.
A 36-kilowatt array of solar photovoltaics will provide power. This was arranged by John Wasileski of OceanView at Falmouth, a retirement community. He is very interested in renewable energy and arranged the financing for the solar. The school will pay a reduced bill for solar electricity for six years, at which time the array will be paid down and will be acquired for low or no cost.
Head of School Jenny Rowe says she feels pretty confident that the new building will get its Passivhaus certification during the summer. And she is quite certain the new building will be functioning as a net-zero facility when school starts in the fall.
Friends School of Portland’s website is friendsschoolofportland.org.