Education Green

Community School Realizes Energy Reductions

by Brian H. Neely

After two years of design and one and a half years of construction, the redesigned Mattahunt Elementary School in Mattapan is realizing a 30% reduction in energy costs to heat and cool the facility. This $8 million modernization project was funded by the City of Boston and constructed by Reliable Roofing and Sheet Metal, the general contractor.

Originally built in the 1960s, Mattahunt Elementary School in Mattapan, started as a three-story 105,000sf  building, with a masonry first floor and a white insulated metal panel system with punched windows at the second and third floors. The metal panels were rusting, paint was peeling, air and water was infiltrating to the interior via panel joints, and the  moisture infiltration was deteriorating the panel insulation. The metal panels were visible to the inside of the classroom in multiple locations, and they gave a sterile industrial atmosphere to the classrooms. The existing windows were steel pivot windows that started to sag over time, leaving large visible gaps and allowing further air infiltration. Gale Associates, Inc., a building envelope consulting engineering firm, provided the Boston Public Facilities Department (BPFD) and School Department with several replacement options, emphasized the need for long-term performance, energy efficiency, and the low maintenance and durability necessary for an urban environment.

In addition to the various technical challenges, the existing building had a mundane and uninteresting appearance, allowed for limited daylighting opportunities in the classrooms, and an unfriendly main entry door with little on it to indicate the school’s name or that it served as its entry point. The BPFD assembled the design team of Gale and Utile, Inc. an architecture and Urban Design firm to reimagine the building’s exterior.

The existing building has a remarkable plan with a central library core which spun off multiple pods of four classrooms.   The design team felt this was an important and unrecognized attribute of the building worth embracing. The recladding of the building was an opportunity to develop a programmatic legibility for the facades and a chance to create a composition for which the students would take notice. The final design classified interior spaces into clear categories, by assigning especially vibrant “Lego-like” color schemes and playful curtain wall compositions to areas for learning. Administration areas were treated with a reserved mono-tone metal panel system with punched windows. Several panels in that system were designed with a double layer, which allowed the use of perforated exterior panels to spell out MATTAHUNT SCHOOL over the north and south entries. This clearly demarcates entries where there was confusion before, and it strengthens the school’s branding and identity.

Curtain wall windows eliminated the need for additional structural supports for individual window units. Since the curtain wall would span non-window areas, a collection of translucent, opaque, and partially opaque glass was used to provide daylight, and to hide floor slabs and interior chase walls. The design was able to increase daylight and natural ventilation to the classrooms by 20% and also substantially reduce heat loss and drafts.

The project was phased during the school year, which required an additional step to minimize disruption to the students. The school had to provide temporary classrooms elsewhere in the building, where each class could be relocated for two weeks at a time. Meanwhile, the contractor would build a new temporary wall, including windows, while they removed the exterior wall panels. They then installed new metal stud framing, exterior sheathing, air and vapor barrier membranes, and continuous insulation. They also installed a new metal panel system from the exterior. Once that exterior wall was completed, the contractor removed the interior temporary protection and could reveal the newly completed walls.

Brian H. Neely, AIA, CDT, NCARB. is a project architect at Gale Associates, Inc.