by Rick Reynolds
In the growing movement towards green schools as transformational hubs of their communities, Bensonwood is finding its montage building science and innovative materials use increasingly in demand. As a recent example, the Common Ground School—a high school, urban farm, and environmental center in New Haven, Connecticut (and Americas longest-running environmental charter school) has just awarded Bensonwood, a leading fabricator of residential and non-residential buildings, the contract to build a 14,000 SF facility to house its science labs, art studio, offices and multifunctional space.
Not coincidentally, science and aesthetics form the backbone of Bensonwood’s environmentally conscious design/build ethos; qualities that will make the Common Ground building itself a case study in environmental design.
The Common Ground School is an example of non-traditional architecture. Designed by Gray Organschi Architecture, and engineered by Chris Carbone of Bensonwood along with outside foundation engineer, Edward Stanley Engineers, the LEED Platinum building design utilizes great spans that allow for large unobstructed spaces and plenty of natural light. According to Alan Organschi, “A primary objective was a pedagogical one; that the building itself would be an environmental exemplar that integrated new ecological concepts and building technologies in a clearly legible and potentially instructive way.”
The Common Ground School project comes on the heels of two other recent Bensonwood projects: the Catherine Houghton Arts Center at the White Mountain School in Bethlehem, New Hampshire, and Burr and Burton Acacemy’s environmentally focused, LEED Platinum Mountain Campus in Peru, Vermont. Together, these efforts underscore Bensonwood’s commitment to building sustainable academic buildings that, in the words of the not-for-profit Green School Alliance, “…respect and protect all living things and wild places without depleting
Bensonwood’s innovative use of CLT (Cross Laminated Timber) technology on the project resulted in the invention of a whole new panelized roof system. According to Carbone, “The CLTs are used as the bottom flange of an insulated box beam that allow for 33 ft. spans. The roof panels themselves are 17 inches thick and rated for R-55 performance. There are also two 64 foot span timber trusses that vault the multi purpose room and provide a 64’x72′ post free space.”
Cross-laminated timber is a prefabricated, solid, engineered wood panel that is lightweight yet very strong. It has extraordinary acoustic, fire, seismic and thermal performance. Because of its carbon sequestering properties, CLTs together with Mass Timber columns and beams will replace concrete and steel for superstructure in larger buildings over the coming decades as our nation gets on track to cut our carbon emissions (and fulfill our pledges to future generations). The CLTs and glulams will be manufactured in Canada by Nordic Engineered Wood from FSC certified dense black spruce.
On this project the CLT panels are used in the principal stairs and guardrails, in the insulated box beam roof panels, and interior structural walls. Even the elevator shaft will be built with CLTs.
For exterior walls, Bensonwood’s award-winning R-35 OB PlusWall® will complete the energy efficient building envelope. They will be modified with added structure as needed to support the big spans.
To provide natural lighting, the building will have clerestory detailing, with three 64 ft. lines of high, north-facing windows to let in lots of indirect, even light — of special importance to art studios as well as overall indoor health.
Built on a hillside, the two story building will connect the upper campus with the lower level and bus stop. The 80′ long multi span bridge is comprised of pressure treated southern yellow pine. To help shelter the walkways on the path to the bus stop, the roof on the north and south side will cantilever out 11 ft.
Bensonwood will pre-fabricate the timbers, the wall, floor, and roof panels, and a large chimney, at its Walpole, New Hampshire facilities. Then the company will install the finished assemblies rapidly on site with minimal disruption to the ecology of the campus.
Again, according to Chris Carbone, “More and more, academic institutions are going green, and many colleges now have ‘Sustainability Directors’ who are involved with the day-to-day planning and have input on construction projects. The Common Ground School, situated in New Haven, Connecticut and accessible to major population areas, has the potential to serve as an excellent case study in the advantages of montage building and innovative use of structural wood products like Cross Laminated Timber.”
And, Carbone added, “With CLTs, the sky’s the limit, literally!”
The onsite construction manager will be Josh Johnson, of Newfield Construction, based in Hartford CT. A 2016 Opening is expected.