Jennings Creek elementary school aerial view

The sight of slide 35 generally produces an audible gasp.

After all, what school board member expects to see a monthly utility bill converted into a five-figure income? Income that can translate into funds to hire staff, increase salaries, or make capital improvements that are sensitive to the environment.

Welcome to the world of architect Kenny Stanfield. His firm, Lexington, Ky.–based Sherman Carter Barnhart Architects, is helping transform Kentucky K-12 education through zero energy design and construction. Their burgeoning portfolio of zero energy-compliant, -ready, and -emerging schools now numbers 18 and counting.

73 vs. 17.5 EUI

Take Jennings Creek Elementary School in Warren County. The 88,469-square-foot facility is home to 750 pre-K to fifth-grade students. The expected EUI (energy use intensity) for a typical 72,000-square-foot elementary school in climate zone 4 is 73. Jennings Creek? Just 17.5 with payback in 7.5 years.

What that 17.5 EUI represents to the kids, parents, taxpayers, faculty, staff, school district, and, of course, environment is a side of the net zero story not told enough.

“We designed the nation’s first net-zero school back in 2010,” Stanfield explains. “Today we apply net-zero principles to every school we design. Nearly every design decision is tested against those principles. We constantly challenge ourselves with ‘How low can we go?’”

Many of those principles are well-established, like north–south building orientation, building size, daylighting, photovoltaic panel arrays, geothermal HVAC, and careful power consumption. Even the school kitchen gets an eco-friendly makeover.

Star Performer

But all those measures pale before the true star of Kentucky education’s energy success story: the composition of the building envelope.

For that, Stanfield credits their decision in 2005 to build elementary schools with insulated concrete forms. ICF is a wall system formed by stacking foam-framed blocks Lego-style to create a cast-in-place concrete wall. The resulting envelope was quickly recognized as the essential first step in achieving net-zero compliance.

Cumberland Trace library

That net-zero mandatory proved to be the first in a series of ICF advantages:

  • Construction speed. “We cut several months off a traditional construction schedule,” Stanfield says.
  • Budget. Jennings Creek Elementary including a 42.84-kilowatt photovoltaic array came in at $201.17 per square foot. Compare that with an average Kentucky elementary school cost without solar at $221 per square foot.
  • Design. “ICF is actually very easy to work with. The spans are about the same as are the veneer systems. We do curves with ICF. There’s really no design limitation,” Stanfield reports.
  • Resilience. All newly constructed Kentucky schools must have an area to shelter-in-place the entire school population from a direct tornado strike, a considerable expense in traditional school construction. That resilience is baked in with ICF. “There’s no safer place than an ICF school,” Stanfield says.
  • Project Pipeline. The firm’s rapidly expanding portfolio speaks to the power of slide 35 and the firm’s overall net-zero design experience.

“I specify ICF anywhere it makes sense,” Stanfield says. “It’s a great story to tell owners.”

Learn more about how ICF can help achieve your firm’s carbon neutral and business development goals.