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Concentration of CO2 in the Atmosphere

NH School District Strives for Net-zero Emissions

Rendering of the new Oyster River Middle School in Durham, N.H. (Lavallee Brensinger Architects)

John S. Webster

A school district in New Hampshire is taking big steps toward net-zero–or even net-positive–power consumption. Oyster River Cooperative School District in Durham is nearing completion on a new middle school, and large parts of the project focus on solar power and geothermal heating and cooling. This is notable, not only due to the cost to its $45 million budget. In addition, it required approval by a small-town school district whose goals included building a school that would eliminate serious drawbacks in the existing middle school but would also put it ahead of a number of emissions-related initiatives in the state and the New England region.

To achieve this, the district had to address problems of heat and noise, undersized classrooms, and inadequate storage and performance space for its growing music program. But the district also wanted to build an energy-efficient building that would save money in the long run, and at the same time, contribute to reducing its carbon footprint and effects on climate change.

The school district contracted Bauen Corporation of Meredith, N.H., for the project. The company has a 30-year history of construction management in New England, and strong ties to subcontractors who provide photovoltaic panels and geothermal heating systems. The architectural firm Lavallee Brensinger is the architect.

Andre Kloetz, project manager says Bauen was selected as the construction manager due to the company’s history with both the school district and around the region. For one, the company has experience in LEED contracting and the principals, including Kloetz, Adam Downs and Jeff Parks intend to continue in that vein.

“This is our seventh project for the Oyster River Cooperative School District,” said Kloetz. “We were asked to submit our qualifications to the school district, and we were selected after interviews with the finalists were held by the building committee. We have worked with Lavallee Brensinger for thirty years, and we hope the middle school project will be our second LEED gold project.”

Construction rendering of the new Oyster River Middle School in Durham, N.H. (Lavallee Brensinger Architects)

According to Steve Laput, Lavallee Brensinger project architect, even though one of the school district’s primary goals was to build a net-zero facility, it will in fact be net-positive upon completion, due in part to use of low-energy LED lights, smart-light controls and natural daylight. The building’s energy infrastructure underlying these components is even more important.

“A high-performance exterior envelope combined with the geothermal system substantially reduces the building’s heating and cooling loads which results in a smaller mechanical system and therefore reduces energy usage. Furthermore, an extensive solar photovoltaic system consisting of roof-mounted solar panels and a structured solar array over a parking lot will generate and send power back into the electrical grid,” said Laput.

Building began in October 2020, with completion of the structural steel shell. Bauen contracted several companies to handle the infrastructure. ReVision Energy, with locations in Maine, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, handled the solar panels; Cushing and Sons, based in Meredith, N.H., handled well drilling and the geothermal system; and Granite State Plumbing and Heating in Weare, N.H., was the mechanical contractor.

For its part, according to ReVision, since 2017 the school district has looked beyond academics in order to also invest in the entire community’s future. Prior to the Oyster River Middle School project, the company installed a 79-panel solar array on the roof of the district’s maintenance facility. It will produce more than 27,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year, offsetting the equivalent of driving more than 50,000 miles in a gas-powered car.

In addition, the district financed the solar array through a Power Purchase Agreement, in which an investor owns the array. while the district pays monthly fees for the power generated. This way, the district is responsible for reduced energy costs, without paying anything up front, with the option to buy the solar array in the future at a significantly reduced price.

ReVision calculates that carbon emissions reductions total more than 29,000 pounds per year.

John S. Webster is a freelance writer based in Brattleboro, Vermont

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