North Carolina’s First LEED Platinum Elementary School

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Northside Elementary School in Chapel Hill, NC has earned Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) Platinum certification with the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI). The three-story, 100,000-square-foot school opened in fall of 2013 and represents the first LEED Platinum elementary school in North Carolina.

Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools partnered with Moseley Architects to design a new school to support 585 students.  Located in the heart of the Northside neighborhood, the site was originally home to the all African-American Orange County Training School. Since 1924 this site has functioned as a site of education and the school’s design embrace the rich history of the community and the alumni. A display along the lower level corridor shows a timeline for the students to appreciate the history of the site, as well as a large display case that houses the school’s original cornerstone.

“We are thrilled to learn of Northside Elementary’s LEED Platinum designation,” said Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools Superintendent Tom Forcella. “Moseley Architects, and the entire planning team, worked extremely hard to create such an amazing learning facility. It will benefit our students and our community for decades to come.”

The design integrates many sustainable features and embodies a truly sustainable approach to a small site. The district’s Policy 9040 for high performance design criteria set the stage for the school to pursue LEED Gold. However, through a collaborative effort between the design team and the school district, that goal was surpassed, while still remaining on schedule and within budget. The design incorporates a garden roof area connected to the adjacent science classroom; a comprehensive stormwater management plan that includes an underground rainwater cistern that supplies water to the toilet fixtures and cooling tower, pervious pavers, and porous playground surfaces; and carefully designed windows, tubular skylights, and light shelves to both maximize daylight in classrooms and reduce the energy spent for lighting.

The building also places a special emphasis on functioning as a teaching tool for the students, staff and community. Early in the design process, the idea of using the school building to actively support the curriculum was discussed with key staff members.  Through continued staff input and a healthy collaboration, this idea was not only realized but expanded upon greatly. Discreetly placed interior and exterior signage provide brief descriptions of several sustainable design features utilized at Northside. Each sign directs the reader to the school’s Building Dashboard for more information concerning the building’s sustainable features, which provides media center book suggestions and internet websites where the subject can be explored further.  The school’s teachers also collaborate with one another on integrating these features into customized lesson plans and project-based learning efforts.

Jim Copeland, managing principal for the project with Moseley Architects is proud of what Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools achieved. “I am particularly pleased that our team was able to achieve their vision. Northside Elementary is one of only 20 LEED Platinum public schools in the entire country and one of only four elementary schools.”