Architectural firm's focus on "net zero" energy designs earns Bardstown Ind. board's selection to advise on future facilities

Kentucky Standard, Bardstown, May 20, 2012

Bardstown Schools hires ‘green’ architectural firm
By Erin L. McCoy

An architectural firm responsible for building the first school in the nation to run on “net zero” energy has been selected to advise the Bardstown Independent School District on future projects — including the construction of a new school.

Kentucky-based Sherman Carter Barnhart designed Richardsville Elementary in Warren County, which through the use of solar panels, active daylighting strategies and insulated concrete-block walls produces as much energy as it needs to operate.

The district visited this school as it considered the architectural firm, Superintendent Brent Holsclaw told the school board Tuesday.

“We were very impressed with facilities they had built,” Holsclaw said. “Sometimes architects have outstanding ideas but they really don’t fit very well at school, and they seem to bridge that gap.”

To Holsclaw’s knowledge, Sherman Carter Barnhart may be the only architectural firm in the nation to focus on a “net zero” strategy.

Two architectural firms made presentations to the district’s building committee before the final decision was made, he said.

Sherman Carter Barnhart will serve in an advisory role, taking a look at the district to find opportunities for energy savings or improvements, Holsclaw explained. This includes small projects, but the district will also welcome “any recommendations they have for the Salt River property,” said Holsclaw, referring to land on Templin Avenue the district recently purchased from Salt River Electric. The company has not yet moved off the property and hasn’t set a timeline to do so. The district is giving Salt River time to find or construct new facilities to move into, Holsclaw said.

“The wheels are turning but they’re turning slowly at this point,” he said.

The firm would not be paid for advising but instead would be paid for its work on any projects. All projects still have to be awarded through an open bidding process, Holsclaw said.

The school would likely contain lower grade levels moved from other schools, rather than overlapping with existing schools, according to Holsclaw.

Richardsville Elementary included educational features built into the school: TVs showing the energy production of the solar panels in real time, exposed geothermal pipes from which students can take readings and a weather station at an outdoor classroom. The gym floor is made of bamboo wood and the kitchen features a “combi-oven” that cooks with steam — making food healthier and also eliminating the need for hoods that draw smoke and air out of the building.

Warren County Schools Director of Finance Chris McIntyre said Sherman Carter Barnhart has built seven schools for the district in just the last seven years, including Richardsville, which opened in fall 2010. The last piece of the infrastructure to become net zero was just installed in January, but McIntyre believes the school is on track to produce no energy costs, for an $80,000-$85,000 annual savings.

“I think the kids have really embraced it,” he said. “The teachers have really utilized that school as a learning component, as a curriculum component.”

McIntyre praised the firm. “I think they’ve done a good job in helping us with energy costs and they’ve done a good job overall.”

Not all the firm’s schools are “net zero” when it comes to energy, but its schools’ energy usage still averages well below Energy Star standards, Holsclaw said.

“They’re so far underneath the Energy Star they don’t even use that as their guide,” he told the board.

While Kentucky elementary schools use an average of 60 kBtus of energy annually, Sherman Carter Barnhart’s schools on average use less than 20 kBtus annually, according to an information sheet provided by the firm. A school saves roughly $2,000 for every kBtu cut, the firm estimates.

The firm has a good reputation for reasons other than its environmental consciousness.

“This organization is notorious for designing buildings that do not require many change orders,” Holsclaw said. Change orders are alterations during construction that can cost a district money.

But it was the environmental consciousness of the firm that convinced Holsclaw.

“I feel we have a responsibility to go with an organization that thinks like this,” he said. “They’re not just dreams. You call these people that have had one of these buildings built and they just can’t stop talking about how well things went.”

The board voted unanimously to select Sherman Carter Barnhart.

“They are top-of-the-line, as far as I’m concerned,” board member Margie Bradford said.

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