Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

Sustainability Efforts at Golden Brook Elementary School


Award-winning Golden Brook elementary school. Photo credit: Ryan Bent Photography.

Barb and Greg Whitchurch

The Golden Brook Elementary School project, in the Windham, NH, converted an overcrowded, “vintage” facility into a new facility that supports a safer, more effective learning environment. The designers incorporated as many energy-efficient features as possible within budgetary limitations.

This colorful, light and functional building (preschool through fourth grades) was the result of innovative teamwork and a shared creative vision held by the school district, Banwell Architects ( of Lebanon, NH and Quechee, VT, and DEW Construction ( of Williston, VT and Keene, NH.

Functional classroom with views to the outdoors. Photo credit: Ryan Bent Photography.

Rooms are arranged by grade, each with a signature color and geometric shape. This enables young students to easily find their way inside the building and reinforces a sense of community by age group. Flexible spaces, designed to support collaborative learning, are woven throughout the building. Design features include an open and sunny main lobby and administration area, natural lighting in all instructional spaces, and improved traffic design to relieve congestion.

These design efforts were rewarded with an Outstanding Project Award in Learning by Design magazine’s fall 2020 Educational Architecture and Interior Design Awards for Excellence (

Banwell, along with the Fitzemeyer & Tocci Associates (, applied their considerable expertise and experience to provide as many high-performance design features and efficiency strategies as possible. The total construction cost was $28.8 million, and the project was completed under budget and on time. Below are just some of the low-cost, cost-saving sustainability features the design team was able to fit within the budget:

  • Created a two-story building, reducing the building footprint and preserving land spaces for other uses

  • Recycled 75% of the construction waste of typical endeavors (three to seven times what is typical)

  • Re-used land and minimized demolition by re-using part of the original building; (A small kindergarten wing was retained and incorporated into the modern school.)

  • Avoided using inefficient temporary classrooms through “staged” building. (One third of the new building was constructed on the new footprint; students were then moved into that building; then the remainder of the existing building was demolished and replaced.)

  • Minimized impervious surfaces, such as driveways, the parking lot, and other paved areas, to allow precipitation to enter the ground

  • Potable water will not be used for irrigation

  • Trees in the parking lot reduce the “heat-island effect”

  • No-idling policy near the school minimizes exhaust dangers

  • Recycled, eco-friendly, and low-VOC materials used for furniture, playground structures, and flooring

  • Low-maintenance, eco-friendly indoor surfaces requiring only minimal and non-toxic cleaning and maintenance

  • 70% of the spaces in the building have outside views

  • New low-temperature hydronic heating

  • Eco-friendly engineering of HVAC, avoiding typically necessary air conditioning

  • Variable air flow and low-energy motors in the HVAC systems

  • Internet-based building management system to keep track of conditions, mechanicals, as well as efficiency and equipment needs

  • Filtered ventilation

  • LEDs, auto-lighting sensors and controls, and programmable outside lights

  • Low-flow toilets, high-efficiency motors, insulation, and hot water recirculation programming, making the plumbing system highly efficient.

Light, airy, colorful interior design. Photo credit: Ryan Bent Photography.

Banwell has previously demonstrated its efficiency and sustainability expertise with projects such as the Summer Park Residences multi-family housing building in Hanover ( But municipal projects, such as schools, often have too-small budgets which severely limit the architects’ ability to meet up-to-date standards, and building code requirements are far behind the times. So, insulation levels in the walls, roof and foundation are reduced, the windows are mediocre, the airtightness suffers. However, when forward-thinking wins out, many districts choose to build LEED and Passive House schools (e.g.,,

As Banwell President, Ingrid Nichols, says, “The school district chose not to follow the NECHPS ( program but went through the checklist and added in as many energy-efficient features that the budget allowed. It is a good reminder when planning for schools to review higher initial up front cost features that have a quick payback, so that they are sure to implement all of the available high-performance features that they can. That way they can assure they do not miss opportunities for efficiency and sustainability, [which would] save the taxpayers more than they would spend (in the near term).

Our own elementary school upgrade here in Middlesex, VT was hamstrung by voter frugalityfrom providing a safer, longer-lasting facility for our youngsters, which would have been cheaper to run and maintain. Sadly, voters chose to save a smaller amount up front by committing to larger long-term energy costs down the line, and without eliminating the ongoing fire hazards and exhaust fumes from fossil fuel heating and cooking equipment.

People commonly spend a lot on insurance in order to avoid big bills for health problems or house damage or a car crash in the uncertain future; or they spend a lot on college tuition with no immediate return; but they fail to apply the same principle to building efficiency even though those future costs are far from uncertain.

The award-winning, beautiful and functional Golden Brook School will serve its educational purposes very well. But, the extra costs to the environment and the taxpayers that result from the district’s cost savings will be long term.

Barb and Greg Whitchurch are Board members of and have their own Passive House in Middlesex, VT

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