Zero Energy

Cardinal Elementary School

Arlington County Public SchoolsArlington, Virginia

Cardinal Elementary School renovations were completed in 2021 as CMTA’s third net-zero school in Arlington, Virginia delivering energy efficiency, less MEP maintenance, and significant annual savings in operation costs for Arlington Public Schools (APS). The school provides healthier air quality and award winning, innovative learning environments for students and staff.

Following the success of APS’ Discovery Elementary and Alice West Fleet Elementary, Cardinal Elementary stands out as a major part of the project was renovation rather than new construction. One third of the completed school was ‘existing to remain’ which challenged the design team in new ways to reach project energy goals. As a result, the school has become a showcase building in the region for how to successfully deliver a high performance renovation project.

Cardinal Elementary models energy performance innovations and user feedback from Discovery Elementary and Alice West Fleet Elementary, continuing to raise the bar for students, teachers, and the community. The sustainable building design provides APS $117,000 of annual utility cost savings compared to other schools in the district. Energy consumption is offset by a 540kW solar array located on the roof of the new school, making Cardinal Elementary a net-zero energy facility.

Like Alice West Fleet Elementary, Cardinal Elementary follows the precedent of a previous four-story building. The school sits on a constrained site limiting the number of geothermal exchange wells available to heat and cool the facility efficiently. As a result, 72 560-foot-deep wells were installed underneath various areas onsite to condition air by exchanging heat with the ground. In addition, small, individual heat pump units were installed to provide conditioned air when and where needed.

The design of Cardinal improves the existing envelope for energy efficiency, while maintaining it’s look and condition to retain the connection to the vibrant Westover community. The building includes a variety of learning spaces designed to articulate the positive relationships between new pedagogic methods, community engagement, modern architecture, and educational landscape strategies that promote health, well-being, and collaboration. For example, the connection between spaces inside and outside occurs in a mix of ways to involve and activate sensory responses.

The 130,000 square foot school generates energy savings through the following strategies:

  • Optimum solar orientation
  • Tight building envelope
  • Appropriate use of glazing
  • Occupancy sensors
  • High-performance geothermal HVAC systems

Universal design, prioritizing sustainability, and high performance are hallmarks of Cardinal Elementary School. The school is setting new standards for design excellence and has created an environment that students can’t wait to get to in the morning and don’t want to leave in the afternoon!