The school became LEED Platinum-certified in July, making it the only elementary school in the state with this certification. LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, is a green building certification program created by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).
Cheryl Carnahan, Northside’s principal, said in a statement that reaching the highest level of LEED certification is an honor.
Steve Nally, a construction administrator for Moseley Architects, said the architecture firm kept the LEED standards in mind when designing the school.
“From what type of glazing you are going to have on the building, insulation level, building orientation on the site, storm water management,” Nally said. “All the things that the USGBC looks at in its certification are things that you need to keep in mind in the design process.”
Some of the green features at Northside include a rooftop garden, an underground rainwater cistern that supplies water to the toilets, a cooling tower and skylights.
“Our community is heavily invested in this school, and we find it very satisfying to earn such a visible recognition of the planning and foresight that went into this state-of-the-art learning facility,” Carnahan said.
Emily Scofield, executive director of the North Carolina branch of the Green Building Council, said buildings are rated on a scorecard.
“They decide which components they are going to include in their building, and each of those components is weighted with a point value,” Scofield said. “At the end of your project, depending on how many points you have accumulated, that correlates to your rating.”
There are four levels of certification: LEED-certified, silver, gold and platinum.
Scofield said North Carolina is ranked seventh in the nation for LEED activity, based on 2013 statistics.
Northside opened in August 2013 on the site of the original Northside Elementary School, the only school for African-American children in Chapel Hill until the district begin integrating its classrooms in 1966.
“Having some of that rich history and having that conversation of what used to be, it’s really interesting to have such a modern school,” said Jeff Nash, spokesman for Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.
John Nichols, a sustainability coordinator for Moseley Architects, said the cost for building Northside was low when taking into account all the extra features.
“The overall construction cost that we calculated for this project was about 2.6 percent above and beyond building without all of the same green technologies and sustainable design strategies,” Nichols said.
One of the ways the building gives back is by being a teaching tool itself. It has a data dashboard that measures the energy being used by the school.
“Kids can go in there and learn about the energy consumption at the school and how they can perhaps do a better job,” Nash said.
Ben Matthews, director of the Safe & Healthy Schools Support Division of the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, said the cost of becoming LEED-certified has deterred other schools from pursuing the certification.
“The problem is, when architects and school people want to go for it, local boards of education don’t want to pay the money up front to go for the LEED certification because there is an increased expense,” Matthews said.
“You will realize cost savings over time, but the initial output for construction cost is greater for the LEED schools, so that’s one of the reasons it’s not been spread more widely.”