Cardinal Elementary School

Arlington, Virginia

Cardinal Elementary School opened in 2021 as CMTA’s third net-zero school in Arlington, Virginia. This project has set new standards for design excellence in sustainability, energy performance, and innovative learning environments for Arlington Public Schools. This new school requires less maintenance, provides healthier air quality, and increases occupant productivity, all while saving Arlington Public Schools a substantial amount of money in operating costs.

Building on energy performance innovation and user feedback from Discovery Elementary and Alice West Fleet Elementary, Cardinal Elementary School has raised the bar for students, teachers, and the community who know firsthand how past, proven projects have revolutionized the entire school district – not only with award-winning learning spaces, but also with net-zero design that provides Arlington Public Schools with $117,000 of annual utility cost savings in comparison to a typical district school. This school's energy consumption will be offset by a 540kW solar array located on the roof, making Cardinal Elementary a Net-Zero Energy facility.

Cardinal Elementary follows the precedent of a previous four-story, elementary school, Alice West Fleet Elementary (APS). The school reflects the oft-repeated desire among Arlington residents to “build up and not out” as part of the vibrant Westover community. The design of Cardinal Elementary School ensures that the building appropriately blends in with the neighborhood context with sensitive site design, giving back to the community in energy savings and improved public spaces.

The design includes a variety of learning spaces that articulate the positive relationships between new pedagogic methods, community engagement, modern architecture, and educational landscape strategies that promote health, well-being, and collaboration. The connection between spaces inside and outside occur in a variety of ways to involve and activate sensory responses. Universal design and sustainability are hallmarks of Cardinal Elementary. The design creates a school that students can’t wait to get to in the morning and don’t want to leave in the afternoon.

This 111,000 square foot school will generate significant energy savings through the use of multiple strategies, including: optimum solar orientation, a tight building envelope, appropriate use of glazing, occupancy sensors and high-performance geothermal HVAC systems. Small, individual heat pump units will provide the proper amount of conditioned air only when and where it’s needed. Air is conditioned by exchanging heat with the ground via seventy-two, 560-foot-deep wells underneath various areas on the site.