Education Featured

HMFH Designs Zero-Net Energy School

Fales School / Renderings courtesy of HMFH Architects

Westborough, MA – The new Annie E. Fales Elementary School designed by HMFH Architects for the town of Westborough is projected to achieve zero-net-energy use when it opens in the fall of 2021.

 A highly efficient building enclosure, geothermal heating and cooling, low wattage LED fixtures, and centralized energy management reduce energy use to one-third of what is used by typical school buildings. Powered by a rooftop solar array capable of generating 10% more energy than required for the school itself, this 70,000sf, all-electric facility will be one of New England’s most energy-efficient public schools. Light-filled interiors, warm natural materials, and connections to the surrounding woodland and fields create a nurturing learning environment for the 400 students in kindergarten through the third grade.

Roofs are oriented for maximum solar production

This project is the first facility towards the town’s goal to be carbon-emissions free by 2040. Early community engagement and careful analysis of project finances paved the way for an enthusiastic and successful town vote for funding the school. The project’s additional cost to taxpayers is entirely offset by annual energy savings.

During initial design stages, HMFH set an ambitious goal of 25 Energy Use Intensity (EUI), the industry standard measurement of building energy use. HMFH’s early brainstorming sessions with experts in solar power, geothermal, daylighting, and energy modeling allowed the team to establish the big moves that minimize energy use, such as orienting roofs for maximum solar production, nestling the large community spaces into the hillside to buffer temperature fluctuations, and locating all classrooms on the top floor where they will have enough daylight to operate without artificial lighting much of the year.  

The final design features triple-glazed windows, roof and wall insulation 40% above code requirements, 40 geothermal wells for heating and cooling, high-efficiency mechanical systems designed to improve air quality, LED lighting with daylight and occupancy sensors to lower electricity demand, a 24,000sf solar photovoltaic array, and a building management system that monitors and controls mechanical systems and lighting for maximum efficiency. The projected EUI for the Fales Elementary School is 24.9 and the project is tracking toward earning a LEED Gold and LEED Zero Certification.

“Our design is encouraged by Westborough’s long-standing leadership in sustainability. The architecture celebrates this intention with a sculptural roofscape of photovoltaics on the outside and the lofty, light-filled spaces on the inside,” said Julia Nugent, AIA, a principal and project leader with HMFH Architects. “The building educates students about the natural environment and sustainable practices, and we hope it inspires a life-long care for the world they live in.” 

The Fales School is one of the first net-positive energy schools completed within the community partnership program under the Massachusetts School Building Authority (MSBA).