When it was completed a few years ago, Richardsville Elementary School, located in a small Warren County community near Bowling Green, was officially designated as the first “net-zero school” in Kentucky, but claims by the building’s designers and school officials that the school would actually produce more energy than it used had more than a few doubters.
And why not? After all, the then-new $12.1 million school housing 550 students had 777,266 square feet of space to heat and cool. How could it possibly do that without costing the Warren County School District thousands of dollars a year?
Well, the building’s designers were not just blowing hot air when they bragged about how efficient the school would be. If anything, the school has exceeded its expectations, and in so doing, it has established a precedent that other school districts are eager to follow.
Not only did Richardsville Elementary not cost the school district a penny to heat or cool in 2012, but the Tennessee Valley Authority paid the Warren County district a little more than $37,000 for the electricity produced by Richardsville Elementary.
State Rep. Jim DeCesare, R-Warren County, said, “We’re seeing a savings of millions of dollars in energy costs” at the school — and he has the numbers to back that up.
Schools that generate more electricity than they use are turning heads in the construction industry, according to Kenny Stanfield, architect for Sherman, Carter, Barnhart of Louisville, who designed the school..
“That opens up some eyes,” said Stanfield, who has been a leader in designing net-zero schools and uses Richardsville as the model of energy efficiency.
“It is the icon of the green schools movement,” Nathaniel Allen, schools advocacy lead for the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington, D.C.
The White House, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the federal Department of Education have implemented a program in recent years called Green Ribbon Schools that offers rewards to energy-conscious districts. “The speed that this effort came together is incredible,” Allen said. “This is one issue where everyone agrees.”
Stanfield said paying for utilities is usually an expected expense for schools, but that idea is being questioned with the recent results. “School districts just accepted the fact that they were going to have to pay utility bills,” the architect said. “Other counties are noticing the energy savings in Warren County. Now we are able to show some real results, real numbers, that (net-zero) works.”
The beautiful new $42 million Boyd County High School, which had its first day of classes Wednesday, is designed to be energy efficient as the school district wisely decided to pay more to construct the building in order to save millions of dollars in energy costs over the life of the school. The new school does not claim to be a “net-zero” structure, but it does promise to use energy efficiently.
To date, Richardsville Elementary is the only large school building in the U.S. to produce more energy than it uses, but rest assured that it will not long be alone in that distinction. The school has proved that it really is possible to build a “net-zero” school.