Bright-Minded Home – June 2013

By Melissa Coleman

Q+A with Karen Boffa and Dan O’Shea of the new Falmouth Elementary


Falmouth’s new elementary school is setting the standard for school energy efficiency. Designed by Oak Point Associates and built by Shaw Brothers Construction in 2011, it features passive solar siting, abundant natural light and lighting that adjusts for need, solar thermal hot water, 10,000-plus feet of green roofs with gardens, porous pavement to manage runoff, rainwater capture for toilets, and a wood-chip heating system that also serves the middle and high schools. We asked the principal and director of finance which features they like best.

Q: What stands out about the school’s efficient features?
A: We especially like the radiant floor heating and efficient lighting; the wood-fired boiler is consistently warm and efficient; and conservation is huge from the solar thermal panels that heat the water. There’s also the rainwater collection for toilets.

Q: Was there anything important learned during construction?
A: Despite the sun shelves on the exterior of the building, we found the winter sun was still reflecting on the whiteboards on one of the walls, so we installed shades on the upper windows of the southern side, and that fixed the issue.

Q: What are the heating costs per year?
A: This 145,000-square-foot building costs approximately $50,000 to heat, and that may go down next year by about $10,000, when all three schools are on the same heating loop and wood-chip heating is extended to reduce oil, a total savings of about $150,000 annually.

Q: What happens at the school over summer?
A: The school is used for extended school services and professional development for teachers and is accessed by Falmouth Community Programs for summer activities. The gardens are especially lovely then, too.