Banneker Academic High School is one of the first Net Zero Energy (NZE) Public Schools in the
District. The high-performing school was built to align with Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Sustainable
DC Initiative to make “the District the healthiest, greenest, most livable city for all District
Residents.” Sustainable DC outlines goals with actionable targets spanning from energy and
water to equity and education, addressing the sustainability needs of the environment and the
concerns of residents and community disparities. Specifically in this plan is an action item for
Net Zero schools.
The District’s NZE manual for green building will be based on the groundbreaking practices from
Banneker. The new educational facility was brought up to date to the current District education
specifications, including specific square footage per student, minimum cubic feet per minute
(CFM) of outside air coming in, and specific educational tools and layout characteristics all
brought to this standard.
The state-of-the-art facility has an open atrium at the heart of the school, well-lit classrooms,
collaboration areas, gymnasium, auditorium, cafeteria, coffee shop, science labs, studio and
performing arts spaces, and outdoor learning areas. The District has a stormwater management
manual, a green building management manual, and various other guidelines that were also
An NZE school is a building whose total energy usage is equal to or less than the energy it
generates, meaning the building does not take energy from the grid and is self-sustaining. A
building typically achieves this through two main strategies: reducing its energy usage demands
and producing any energy needed through renewable sources.
Key components that accomplish these strategies on an NZE school are solar elements,
supplemented by other features that allow end-users to monitor the building performance
needs. There is also an opportunity for the school even to return power to the grid when their
solar panels produce excess power not needed to operate the school.
Banneker is currently classified as NZE Ready, which means we have installed all the
infrastructures in the building to allow it to meet NZE criteria. All that remains is the installation
of solar panels. Solar panel racks are in place in preparation for when the District awards the
school solar panels as part of their city-wide solar strategy. Once the panels are installed and
functioning, the school will be operating as an NZE building.
Solar panels contribute to our NZE goals as renewable energy credits (RECs), which are the
energy generated by renewable energy sources and are the real value in NZE.
In addition to solar panels, Banneker has super-efficient systems in place. Heating and cooling
for the building are run through geothermal pumps. The geothermal well system is a water
source system that loops water down 500 feet underground where there is a consistent
temperature all year round. This constant temperature cools or heats water depending on if the
temperature outside is hotter or colder than that underground. That water will return to the
building at the new temperature, either cooling or heating the air. This system uses significantly
less energy than a traditional HVAC system.
At Banneker, there are 125 geothermal wells on-site to help heat and cool such a large building.
The school has heat pumps for every three to four rooms, so there isn’t a sizeable central
system – no large fans or cooling towers that you would typically see.
The building incorporates a series of strategies around daylight, thermal comfort, acoustics, and
indoor environmental quality to generate a high-performance learning center. Outside air is
brought into the school through a massive piece of equipment that regulates the fresh air
through CO 2 sensors.
Remember getting drowsy during class in the afternoon? This is because the oxygen levels in
the classroom fall. We’ve incorporated a sensor system that detects the CO 2 levels in the
classroom. Once they get low, fresh air is circulated back into the classroom – one of the many
features contributing to our LEED strategy on this project. The primary focus is the health of the
students and ensuring a safe environment. We also perform indoor air quality testing to ensure
no residual volatile organic compounds (VOCs), harmful odors, or contaminants before the
school is turned over.
How does the design-build team incorporate NZE into a building? It all starts with the
preconstruction team. When the requirement is NZE or NZE Ready, the preconstruction team
performs checks and balances to ensure the pricing and costs match the delivery ask. Going
over budget with NZE is easy, so the preconstruction team needs to monitor costs and
implications. All the crucial decisions relative to NZE are made during the preconstruction
Honoring a Legacy
Banneker Academic High School’s design honors the legacy of Benjamin Banneker and
compliments the neighborhood’s architecture. Benjamin Banneker was an African American
scientist, surveyor, almanac author, and farmer. While working in the District, he became
associated with the law enforcement who laid out the original city.
Throughout the school, there are several design elements to honor and celebrate Benjamin
Banneker. Maps of the District, which he helped design, are showcased on the floor of several
collaboration areas throughout the school – Andy can touch more on this piece. Banneker was
also a watchmaker, and in the school’s atrium, there is a global watch hanging sculpture to
celebrate his achievements. The state-of-the-art high school also features a rooftop terrace
with a garden for students, a community skatepark, and a community dog park. Banneker high