Net Zero Energy Middle School Built in Arizona

A new Arizona middle school has joined a small but growing number of net zero energy buildings in the United States, after working with the International Living Future Institute to develop the net zero building. Colonel Smith Middle School, located in Fort Huachuca, Ariz., will serve 330 students – mostly children of military families – in sixth through eighth grade when it opens its doors this fall. At Smith Middle School, students will learn about energy conservation through applied learning and will be able to see the benefits of saving energy firsthand.

Smith Middle School’s energy-efficient features include solar panels, three wind turbines, and efficient HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) systems. Students will learn about the 88,693-square-foot school’s energy systems through real-time data sent to their iPads, where children can follow the building’s energy usage. School programs include STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities, which will feature an energy efficiency component to teach students about energy consumption and conservation as well as integrating lessons from the middle school’s conservation center and an outdoor education program.

The Huffington Post reports, “[Colonel Smith Middle School] was dedicated on Friday, August 3, in an opening ceremony where Tony Wall, Program Manager and President of 3W Management, was quoted as saying, ‘This is one of the great schools in America.’ 3W Management oversaw the construction of the building. … The school was designed to engage students in real-world problem-solving in a collaborative environment, with classes taking place both indoors and outdoors.”

Colonel Smith Middle School is among about two dozen net zero energy buildings in the United States, including two other middle schools (Irving, Texas’s Lady Bird Johnson Middle School and George V. Leyva Middle School, located in San Jose, Calif.); more buildings are expected to be certified as net zero in the near future. Net zero energy buildings are on the rise recently because of an increase in energy prices, the mounting threat of climate change, and the collapse of the economy. These energy-efficient buildings are no longer limited to industry structures; now, they are taking shape as schools and universities, libraries, homes, and businesses. Businesses, homeowners, and schools looking to save money on energy bills are creating net zero buildings more and more.

The first net zero energy building was constructed at Oberlin College in Ohio in 2000, and since then, the movement has grown as awareness rises about environmental issues and the cost of energy. Of the college’s decision to build the experimental efficient structure, Oberlin director of environmental studies, David Orr, said, “We intended to create not just a place for classes but rather a building that would help to redefine the relationship between humankind and the environment — one that would expand our sense of ecological possibilities.”

As conventional homes and businesses consume 40 percent of the country’s energy and produce greenhouse gases through the use of power, net zero energy buildings are a great way to reduce a building’s carbon footprint. With recent advances in technology, designing and constructing a net zero building is becoming more accessible to the public, and although this method of building is still not cheap, those who are dedicated to preserving the environment believe it is worthwhile.

The official definition of a net zero energy building, according to the United States Department of Energy – Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, is a building that “produces as much energy as it uses over the course of a year.” While some net zero buildings use traditional electricity from the common power grid, they return that energy by producing power through solar panels or wind turbines.

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