Arlington High School: Zoning for Sustainability

As one of the first all-electric high schools in Massachusetts, the new Arlington High School stands as a testament to the significant energy savings that can be achieved through high level coordination and consideration of a building’s environmental impact at all scales.

Educational programming and energy-efficient engineering go hand in hand at the new Arlington High School, where HMFH led an extensive coordination and collaboration process between school officials, engineers and community members to achieve an efficient and comfortable learning environment. As everyday beneficiaries of well-designed spaces, occupants often take for granted the many building systems working together seamlessly to ensure comfort, health and wellbeing. The new all-electric Arlington High School will demonstrate this concept when its first phase opens in February of 2022.

An extensive educational program, complex phased construction schedule, and polluted soils on site that prohibited the use of geothermal wells, required the design team to think critically and creatively to produce a facility in line with Arlington’s ambitious sustainability goals. The solution balances the use of Variable Refrigerant Flow (VRF) systems–which supply space heating and cooling throughout the school without relying on fossil-fuels–with a carefully zoned educational plan that limits the hours of operation for these units, reducing the 408,000 sf school’s energy use to an impressive pEUI of 24.7.

The team’s proactive approach to sustainable design involved close collaboration with school administration and faculty early in the design process to identify the optimal configuration of educational program and building systems zoning layout. Grouping programs with similar operational schedules allows entire zones of mechanical systems to be turned off when the spaces are not occupied, limiting excess energy use in the school and contributing to saving 33% in energy costs over baseline.

When the facility is complete in 2024, the new high school will be the largest public building in Arlington and represent a shift in the Town toward a more climate conscious, resilient future.