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Watkinson Building Prefab And Green

Abigail Sullivan Moore

May 30, 2010

The Watkinson School's new "smart building" is not only a place to learn, it is also a teaching tool. The structure and its abundant green features have been woven into the science curriculum.

The Center for Science and Global Citizenship, which opened on the school's Bloomfield Avenue campus in January, is a modular or prefabricated building, but it is worlds away from the modular classrooms that for decades have been attached like clunky cabooses to the backs of overcrowded schools.

The $2.4 million science center, designed by Project FROG of San Francisco, is next-generation modular, a permanent building with three interconnected classrooms interspersed with shorter, flat-roofed sections. The result is an up-and-down silhouette defined in white metal trim. The three classroom sections have sloped roofs higher in the front than the rear.

Though the FROG model can be built more quickly Watkinson's in six months and less expensively than a conventional building, it has a remarkable array of green features. Its exterior walls of partly recycled steel and redwood timbers, restored from an 1880s train tunnel, join to a snap-together steel frame. A high-tech "cool roof" reflects the sun's heat away from the building, while solar panels capture solar energy. Strategically sited windows (that actually open) provide daylight and ventilation for two science lab classrooms and a global studies room.

Designed to be energy neutral (creating as much power as it needs), the new facility has 60 solar panels, a geothermal heating and cooling system, classroom energy meters, and daylight and occupancy sensors to control lighting. Staffers say it took a little time to learn the nuances of the building's mechanical systems, but that this was quickly accomplished.

Watkinson's space needs prompted it to build. But its desire to create an exciting catalyst for learning that could go up quickly drove it to choose this state-of-the-art green design, said John Bracker, head of the school.

"It's almost like I'm in a living Power Point," explained Jennifer O'Brien, Watkinson's Upper School Science chairwoman, whose students have studied the building's thermal windowpanes and roof.

That kind of study will only increase. Teachers and students at the independent day school for grades 6-12 have begun learning how to use a computerized dashboard or control panel that shows how much energy the 3,800-square-foot building produces and consumes, plus its temperature and humidity.

A mouse click reveals how much energy the solar panels generate and how much of it is used by lights and laptops. The dashboard has a host of other energy applications, and will be used in the science curriculum starting in the fall.

This is the first FROG modular building in New England. The firm has built several on the West Coast, and they are creating a buzz.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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