BE+ was pleased to award HMFH Architects the 2022 Green Building of the Year for their work on the renewal of Bristol County Agricultural High School (Bristol Aggie)’s campus at this year’s Green Building Showcase.
According to the judges, Bristol Aggie “checked so many boxes for us… aggressive sustainability, a strong community connection, a focus on carbon reduction, a teaching tool …all on a limited, public-school budget. The project is also a very familiar project type, the renovation and expansion of an obsolete public school, which the team executed beautifully, serving as a fiscally responsible model for the community, state, and public-school project type.”
The renewal of Bristol Aggie’s campus reflects the school’s close ties to the natural environment and unique curriculum rooted in science and environmental education. Integrating sustainability with curricular goals, the campus is both a place of discovery and an instructional tool through its highly sustainable design. Building systems that reduce energy use, carbon emissions, waste, and water are purposefully exposed to view to offer immersive, hands-on learning experiences and to maximize educational impact.
Designing a multi-building campus for a complex technical program with a limited public-school budget, for the Bristol County Agricultural High School showcases achievable, replicable, and comprehensive sustainable design of public projects.
At the heart of the campus, the heavy timber-framed Student Commons provides a space to work, eat, study, and socialize. Home to the dining area and media center, the Student Commons is a community asset hosting local environmental organizations in addition to being a hub for student activities.
The new Center for Science and the Environment (CSE) highlights the integral role of science and environmental research. Designed as an interactive learning center, the CSE houses a student-curated natural resource museum, specialized bio-secure labs, and flexible classrooms. The CSE is the first public school in Massachusetts with composting toilets that reduce annual water use by 68% from code baseline and helps educate students about water conservation. In addition, rainwater harvesting, vegetated green roofs, and exposed mechanical systems reinforce the idea of the building as a teaching tool.
The renovation and addition to the main academic building, Gilbert Hall, originally built in 1935, showcases the environmental benefits of reusing existing buildings. The design revitalizes the existing space to accommodate academic classrooms, administrative space, two gymnasiums and a one-of-a-kind indoor arborist climbing lab, while maintaining the original building’s character.
All new buildings on campus—the Center for Science and the Environment (CSE), Dairy Barn, Student Commons, and Landscape Arbor building—are designed to accommodate rooftop PV arrays to power 100% of the campus’ energy use. The design team performed radiance map studies of each building to determine the optimal PV placement and roof orientation.
Appropriate access to daylighting and view to support the circadian rhythm of students and faculty and help maintain the psychological connection to nature.
Three out of four newly constructed buildings on campus utilize heavy timber as the primary structure, as it is significantly lower in embodied carbon compared to steel or concrete. Together, the three timber buildings save approximately 221 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.
Water conservation strategies reduce campus water usage by 50% even while the campus expanded from 450 to 640 students.
Heavy timber structures are uncommon in public schools due to cost and code restrictions. The use of timber reflects the school’s natural setting and environmental educational mission. Together, the two heavy timber structures, Student Commons and net-zero ready Dairy Barn, sequester 75 metric tons of carbon. While the visibility of the structural components offers opportunities for student learning, reinforcing math- and science-based principles, and give the spaces their lofty, warm, and light-filled appearance.
The renovation of Gilbert Hall demonstrates another strategy for the reduction of embodied carbon, building reuse. Programmatic needs and increasing costs often limit the reuse of public buildings. This building avoids 744 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions versus building a new structure and updates a significant piece of the school’s historical identity.
Natural carbon sinks can be overlooked, and maintaining their integrity is an important, carbon savings strategy with broad environmental benefits. Beyond addressing operational carbon, the campus design also addresses waste and water systems, paying homage to its relationship to the Taunton River. Bristol Aggie is the first state-funded public school in Massachusetts with composting toilets, a key water conservation strategy that saves between 95-97% potable water. In addition, comprehensive composting of degradable waste, diverts an average of 90% of trash from landfills and not only avoids the generation of methane but becomes a resource to use on-site.
Using these carbon reduction strategies and holistic approach is regenerative. They contribute to a clean watershed, reduce waste, and create a low-carbon campus, and are powerful lessons for generations of students demonstrating that sustainability and environmental stewardship can be realized.
As a county-based public career technical school, Bristol Aggie serves a diverse range of students from across the region and is a valuable resource to the local community. Early visioning engaged stakeholders in conversations about designing a campus that would best serve the students, educators, community, region, and the State.
Bristol is designed to positively impact student well-being by fostering social interaction, strong connections to nature, and highly visible and interactive constructed interventions. The close ties between the school and the natural landscape are evident the moment you arrive on campus: amphitheater style outdoor seating, a grassy common for gathering and socializing, and rooftop academic spaces foster this connection and nurture students.
Public school projects are a highly visible commitment from a community for future generations. This project not only educates the students and faculty that regularly attend Bristol Aggie, but the highly public nature of this specific school is a model that can educate visiting communities about sustainable practices and be a demonstration for feasible, and fiscally responsible strategies.