First Net Zero School Opens in Florida

NeoCity Academy

Architectural rendering of NeoCity Academy. Source: Little Diversified Architectural Consulting

NeoCity Academy, a new STEM magnet high school in Osceola County, FL, is the first net-zero school to open in the state. That means the school returns as much energy to the power grid as it uses each year.

According to reporting by Building Design+Construction, the three-story, 44,820-square-foot facility supports 625 students and was designed to consume three-quarters less energy than a conventionally constructed school building of comparable size. It's expected to save about $115,000 per year on energy costs. For its launch year, 500 students will attend the school.

Functional elements include a roof with 650 solar panels, which can produce 228 kilowatt hours of energy per year. However, noted the designers, solar panel production made up less than a quarter of the energy savings expected; high-performance building design makes up the remainder.

Other features of NeoCity include:

  • A food cantina truck to take the place of a cafeteria;
  • An "incubator" area where students and teachers can gather;
  • A "mixer" space with connections to the building system and the outdoors;
  • Air purification technology; and
  • Collaboration laboratories.

Among the programs of study are biodesign, cybersecurity, digital arts and engineering.

NeoCity Academy

NeoCity Academy under construction. Source: School District of Osceola County

In a presentation given at a recent Florida Educational Facilities Planners' Association conference, Marc Clinch, chief facilities officer for the school system, and others involved in the project said that zero energy was a "no-brainer" for Florida schools. They have predictable occupancy levels and regular daytime demand, long-term interest in reducing energy bills, rooftops that could provide an "adequate footprint" for solar, and often have redundancy for power outage situations. They can also use their own sustainability systems as teaching tools and serve as an example for the rest of the communities where they are located.

As part of the presentation, the speakers emphasized that they modeled various designs and used data to make the best trade-off decisions. While the annual "energy use intensity" index for the typical school in the School District of Osceola County was 65, according to the designers, it's expected to be 16.3 EUI for NeoCity. However, slight variations in the design, such as a different number of floors and configurations of rooftops, would have resulted in EUIs of 20.2 and 18.7. That measurement is calculated by adding up the power consumption for heating and cooling, pumps and fans, lighting, hot water and other loads, subtracting on-site energy production and dividing the total by the square footage; the lower the number, the less the energy usage.

Construction, handled by Gilbane Building Co., cost $13.3 million. Little Diversified Architectural Consulting served as architect. This was the third net-zero school designed by Little Diversified.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.