Text description provided by the architects. The Kensington Creative and Performing Arts High School is the first LEED Platinum public high school in the United States. This new public high school for the School District of Philadelphia transformed a brownfield into a green school. The project teaches about living sustainably to students, teachers, staff and community. Perhaps the biggest lesson is that even deteriorated urban landscapes can be revitalized to become sources of hope for the future. While Kensington is one of the most down-trodden and dangerous areas in the City, there is movement to establish a sustainable community there. This new school is viewed by many as the symbol of that long term goal.
Since the site is located between two very different neighborhoods of Fishtown (rapidly gentrifying) and South Kensington (blue collar industrial), one goal of the project was to create a school to help bring these communities together. It was critical that the school be a welcoming, and transparent structure, engaging the exterior space around it. In addition, the site and building were designed to encourage community use, while demonstrating green design principles relevant to this particular neighborhood.
Site challenges included extensive site contamination and the property’s reputation as a major drug dealing spot in the city. The EL was another obstacle, as the elevated track and station create a formidable visual presence. The school design developed spatial, acoustical and daylighting concepts to function well in spite of the EL. The U-shaped academic “building” allows daylight to reach far into each classroom, decreasing lighting and air conditioning loads. Acoustic needs of classrooms are met by placing them away from noise sources. The building’s central spine creates a compact, easy to navigate school building, offering views to landscaped courtyards, green roofs and site amenities. The U-shape also surrounds a small, protected garden area for classes and horticulture projects.
The plan organization supports maximum community use. The gymnasium, cafeteria and the auditorium can be accessed directly from the outside and have independent mechanical systems, bathroom facilities, and lobbies, allowing independent after hours use. Students have been instructed by the Design Team on green features of the project in order to give tours to parents and community members.
The building’s low maintenance and energy efficient geothermal water source heat pump system, controlled by an energy management system, is a first for the District and should save as much as 30% in energy. Low flow plumbing fixtures use roof water run-off collected in cisterns. High efficiency electrical lighting is controlled by occupancy sensors. Interior and exterior materials were selected for environmental as well as aesthetic criteria.
The site revitalization plan incorporates many strategies to eliminate storm water runoff: green roofs, porous paving, grass pavers, rain gardens and cisterns. This is critical as the Water Department recently instituted monetary penalties for storm water run-off. Landscaping utilizes native plants requiring no additional watering. The practice field’s low maintenance grass requires no water or mowing and is able to stand up to heavy use. At the front entry plaza a dramatic “recycled landscape” utilizing low maintenance plantings and recycled materials (pavers, concrete slabs and stone) from the original site has established a community focal point and favorite gathering spot.