Back to Net-Zero School!

As the new school year gets underway, it’s a great time to reflect on the role our schools play in the Watertown community. They are places of learning and innovation, they help foster a sense of community, and they act as critical facilities for resilience. The physical buildings themselves can also have a huge impact on the students and teachers that occupy them, affecting health, well-being, and learning outcomes.

How are schools connected to climate change?

We know from our recent greenhouse gas emissions inventory, completed as part of the Resilient Watertown planning process, that buildings are the biggest source of GHGs in Watertown, followed closely by transportation. The flipside of that is that our buildings are our biggest opportunity for GHG reduction! And that doesn’t just mean homes and businesses. The transition must include critical facilities like our schools as well. School buildings, as prominent places in Town, can act as model buildings for energy use, design, and a healthy built environment. That’s why the Town chose to take the opportunity of the elementary school rebuilding process to create the first net-zero school buildings in the Commonwealth.

Generally speaking, a net-zero energy building produces enough renewable energy to meet its own annual energy consumption requirements, thereby reducing the use of nonrenewable energy in the building sector. Both new elementary schools, Cunniff and Hosmer, will be net-zero energy and will achieve LEED Gold standards. These aggressive building standards are important because they will decrease energy use, reduce operating costs, create healthy and productive spaces for learning, and provide innovative educational opportunities such as outdoor classrooms and signage explaining the sustainable features of the buildings.

Photo Credit to Watertown Public Schools


Designing for the Future

The Hosmer School emphasizes transparency and sustainability graphics to provide continued connections to the outdoors. The design of the Cunniff School includes an exterior building envelope utilizing a combination of metal and recycled wood and plastic components to create a “green” exterior building shell, which can be easily repaired and replaced on a 40- to 50-year cycle and can be fully recyclable in the future. The parking areas of both schools feature overhead solar canopies, and solar arrays also occupy the building roofs.

Aligned with our Town Vision

The sustainability achievements of these schools are a great example of the direction that the Town has been going. We are emerging as a leader in sustainability and resilience, and these schools echo the types of specific goals and actions in our Climate and Energy Plan to build a resilient and low-carbon future for everyone. The schools will also act as a laboratory for students and the wider community on sustainability, building climate literacy and inspiring advocacy among our youth.

Our schools are invaluable community assets that are models of the sustainable community we are cultivating with Resilient Watertown.

What can I do?

The Town is also in the design stage of eventually rebuilding the High School, and we are striving to again achieve net-zero energy status with that new facility. Stay in the loop about this project by attending upcoming community meetings and checking out the project site! Stay up to date on how all these innovative school buildings are doing and look towards the future of resilient and sustainable projects generated from Resilient Watertown!

Are you passionate about healthy building standards, renewable energy, or preserving green spaces? Let us know! Take the final Resilient Watertown survey to tell us what your priorities are for climate action in our community!