Behind the Solar Array of NYC's First Net-Zero Public School

Home to over 400 Pre-K - 5 students, Staten Island’s Kathleen Grimm School (P.S. 62) is dedicated to helping tomorrow’s leaders build a solid foundation for a lifetime of learning. But the school’s commitment to the next generation goes beyond the classroom: as New York City's first net-zero public school, a range of energy efficiency measures developed for P.S. 62 are now being considered as standards for all new NYC public school construction going forward. These include LED classroom lighting, permeable paving systems for walkways and driveways, displacement induction units for HVAC in classrooms (which offer exceptional IEQ and are extremely quiet), and more advanced lighting, power and ventilation controls. Join us for a tour of this Architizer A+ Award-winning project on April 19 to see what went into making P.S. 62 top of the class.

The NYC School Construction Authority (SCA) project team embarked on an unconventionally long design process, at every step of the way asking: will this help us achieve net-zero? Case studies of existing schools and peeking under the hoods of other net-zero schools around the country helped the team understand how and where energy was used. The SCA team went beyond the theoretical and “added reality to the process” by conducting workshops with students, school staff, and other offices in the Department of Education. This led to design decisions that made everyday activities in the school more efficient, including use of shared high-quality printers in each wing of the school and a well-appointed staff lunchroom rather than keeping printers and mini-fridges in every classroom.

The project’s Solar PV foreman, Allison Ziogas (IBEW Local 3), helped shed light on the school’s rooftop solar generation. Ziogas oversaw installation of the 650 kW system, including over 2,000 solar panels and 62 inverters, plus combiner boxes and other equipment. Designing with PV tilt and placement in mind enabled Ziogas and her team of 20 journeymen to install more panels on the roof than she’s ever done before.

Another exceptional aspect of P.S. 62, Ziogas says, was an integrated design process that sparked conversations and knowledge-sharing across trades. “It’s all about piping wires at the end of the day, but each one of us learned a little bit more—about the geothermal heating system with daylight harvesting, the use of ambient lighting, the airtight envelope—what it took to make a building more sustainable and energy efficient. And plumbers, steamfitters, and other trades all wanted to know about the photovoltaics and how they might utilize it.”

Ziogas credited the GPRO Electrical Systems course she took during her training at Local 3 for her familiarity with many of the concepts she now comes across in her work, from LEED energy credits to overall sustainability and performance ratings. Now working for one of the city’s top solar installers, Ziogas is proud of how many sustainable projects are union-built, which she says demonstrates that we “can create not only green jobs, but solid, union jobs. And we can keep the workforce we already have instead of adding new low-wage labor.”

Energy dashboards installed will help occupants of all ages work within the energy budget by encouraging competition, offering energy saving tips, and forecast trouble or success in reaching net-zero. Once the data collected over the next several years shows the facility consistently producing at least as much energy as it consumes annually, the entire school community—including builders, educators, students, and parents—will join in celebrating the net-zero achievement.

Get behind the scenes of this pioneering project on our members-only tour on Tuesday, April 19. Transportation to the school will be available from Manhattan.

About the authors

Rena Lee
Rena is the Communications Associate at Urban Green Council.