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New Wilde Lake Middle uses 'environment to run the building'

A construction team led a tour inside what will be Maryland's first net-zero energy school.

A construction team led a guided tour of the new Wilde Lake Middle School Friday morning, explaining all the nuts and bolts behind what will be Maryland's first net-zero energy school.

Construction on the $26 million replacement of the old middle school began June 2015. The new school will be larger by nearly 30,000 square feet, providing space for 752 students, compared to 506 students at the old location. With about 75 percent of the construction process complete, the new school is designed to generate as much energy as it uses.

The tour began in front of the old Wilde Lake Middle School building, with Scott Washington, director of school construction for Howard County Public Schools, and construction project manager Gary Davis taking charge. Also joining on the tour was John White, director of communications for Howard County Public Schools.

Walking past construction crews unloading lockers from a truck, Washington said one step toward generating energy will be the solar panels, both on the ground and on the roof of the building.

"It's a 623-kilowatt system," he said. "The panels on the ground generate 200 kilowatts, the ones on the roof 423 kilowatts."

Putting those numbers into perspective, a 100-watt light bulb illuminated for eight hours would use 0.8 kilowatts of energy.

To reduce energy use, the school was designed to make the most use of natural lighting. Inside the building, Washington paused the tour on a staircase lit by the morning sun.

"The building itself was orientated based on sun movement," he said. Pointing to the lights, Washington said they all operate on a dimmer system. The sunnier it is outside, the dimmer the lights would be. The opposite applies for rainy days. Classroom lights are equipped with motion sensors to turn off when a room is empty. The classrooms also have large windows and the school's media center sits below a large skylight.

"This major stuff helps you use what you need only when you need it," Washington said.

With the roof nearly covered in solar panels, other systems had to be relocated. Davis opened a door in one of the school's hallways to reveal one of the many heating systems. The school will use geothermal energy from 112 wells that are 412 feet deep to heat the building. The system works by piping in hot water from the bottom of the wells. A heat exchange process transfers the heat from the water into the school's control system. The water is then returned to the well to be used again.

"We're trying to use the environment to run the building," Washington said.

Washington and Davis also led the tour to instructional areas of the new school, where classrooms will have displays that show how much energy is being used. Art classrooms are conveniently located by a stage built into the cafeteria. Near the cafeteria, a small stone amphitheater has been carved out of the ground for an outdoor classroom. The gymnasium has also been fitted with soundproof panels to control the echoing in the room.

With all the details added to the new school, Davis said he was happy with the project.

"I just want students to feel proud of their school," he said.

The building is scheduled to be complete by the end of November. Student field trips to the new location will begin in December to help get them acclimated to the building. The new Wilde Lake Middle School will be open for the first day in January, after winter vacation.

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