Case Study: Zero Energy

Banneker Academic High School

District of Columbia Public SchoolsWashington, DC

District of Columbia’s First Zero Energy High School

District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) rebuilt Benjamin Banneker Academic High School, a new 178,000 square foot magnet school, in the heart of one of the larger underserved communities in DC. This 21st century learning environment opened in 2021 and is accommodating approximately 800 students from large minority populations from all parts of the city with state-of-the-art lab, classroom, and educational spaces. Banneker Academic High School is the District of Columbia’s first Zero Energy high school.

The Challenges

  • Design a zero energy school on budget and on a tight schedule
  • Target significant decarbonization goals
  • Create a community-focused learning environment
Created with Sketch.

Banneker’s innovative new school building places learning and community at the heart of its design. Most importantly, it expands our enrollment capacity and will allow us to provide more students with the Banneker experience. Created with Sketch.

Lewis D. Ferebee

DC Public Schools Chancellor

The Solutions

Design and construction for this project followed the efficient Design/Build procurement strategy. This approach drastically minimized the timeline for completion, allowing DCPS to quickly provide a new high school to the Banneker community. The new school includes a spacious learning commons in the center of the building, fostering collaboration and inspiring creativity. The facility also features modernized informal learning spaces, such as performing arts, physical education, auditorium, central dining, and administration spaces.

Banneker Academic High School was designed as a high performance, energy-efficient facility that produces onsite, carbon-free renewable energy sufficient to offset the school’s annual energy use via a photovoltaic solar panel array. The building maximizes natural daylight modeling, acoustics, high performance envelope, and an energy efficient geothermal HVAC system to provide high indoor air quality. CMTA’s Commissioning team performed envelope air leakage testing via fan pressurization and non-invasive envelope diagnostic testing including thermography services to ensure envelope high performance criteria was met. The envelope air leakage rate obtained (0.088 cfm/sf) exceeded the high-performance marker of 0.15cfm/sf by 40%. The building was modeled to achieve an EUI of 24 and, after 12 months of data, the building is operating at an EUI of 19.8, a 15% improvement from the original design.

Due to the MEP design focus on high performance systems, Banneker Academic High School eliminates 878.6 metric tons of CO2e from the community annually. Additionally, though the new building is 30,000 square feet larger than the old building, the school costs $100,000 less per year to operate. That equates to $1 less per square foot in operational costs! Similar to John Lewis Elementary School, Banneker Academic High School is becoming a national K-12 leader in sustainability. The facility has achieved LEED Platinum certification and the title of Washington D.C.’s first Zero Energy and Zero Carbon High School. As of 2022, Benjamin Banneker Academic High School is the largest operating Zero Carbon School in the United States.

Energy-Efficient Lighting Design

To design energy-efficient lighting in a challenging urban environment, our team began by evaluating various classroom lighting options, focusing on energy, first cost, proper illumination levels, and glare control. Additionally, there was an emphasis on calculating and selecting luminaries to minimize watts per square foot, while simultaneously providing spaces with quality lighting. This enabled needing fewer fixtures. Similarly, luminaries were carefully analyzed for maintenance, since school staff typically perform this work in-house. Occupancy/vacancy sensors were also utilized throughout the building to reduce energy costs. Active community spaces, like the cafeteria, gym, auditorium, and site, are on a networked lighting control system for scheduling occupancy and events.

Creating a space that fosters imagination and creativity was equally important, so the lighting was integrated into the architectural design. The building’s four-story atrium is uniquely designed to bring natural and artificial daylight into the space, reaching the first floor. Decorative pendants light the space and provide visual interest, while translucent panels allow light to be distributed vertically throughout the atrium. In addition, the auditorium's angled walls enhance acoustics and boast vertical, blue LED lighting to give visual direction and shape the environment.

The Results

DC Public Schools (DCPS) was excited to provide a state-of-the-art facility for over 800 students, the majority of whom are from large minority populations across the city. The district believes that a student’s affluence should not be indicative of their access to excellent educational facilities, and Benjamin Banneker Academic High School allowed DCPS to put this belief into action.

As DC’s first Zero Energy and Zero Carbon high school, Banneker sets a new standard for sustainable, energy-efficient school design. CMTA was proud to be a part of this innovative project.

Banneker High School Energy Consumption vs. Production


Banneker's urban location limited the number of on-site solar panels required to offset 100% of the building's energy use. John Lewis Elementary compensates by overproducing solar energy to allow DCPS to meet their zero energy goals.