40. The grass really is greener at Lawrence Grassi middle school

Tags: Energy Efficiency

Published April 25, 2013

Blog: Lawrence Grassi blazes a low-key but effective energy conservation trail

Lawrence Grassi was a trailblazer. An immigrant from Italy he was a respected mountaineer and guide who built and maintained many of the original trails throughout the mountains around Canmore, Alberta.

Short of stature and eschewing alpine guide stereotypes for suspenders and hobnail boots Grassi was one of the key personalities in Canmore’s early history. And the school that bears his name, Lawrence Grassi middle school, has blazed a trail much in its namesake’s fashion. Nothing too fancy, but a lot of hard work and common sense can go a long way.  

Lawrence Grassi middle school is 70 per cent more efficient than a comparable building. The difference in utility bills between it and the 1920s era school it replaced is $120,000 a year. And oh yeah, they did it all on budget.

Home to 391 students between the grades of five and eight (and expanding to Grade 4 next year) Grassi is your typical Canadian mid-size school. There is a wood shop, a teacher’s lounge, portables and the building was commissioned in 2008.

Ken Riordan is the facilities manager for this and five other schools in the Canadian Rockies School Division.  His school division also built Banff Community High School, the very first LEED certified school in Canada. He knows how to build an efficient building on a budget. More…

Podcast: How to save $120,000 a year when running a school

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Lawrence Grassi middle school in Canmore, Alberta is your typical, mid-size public school. It's home to 391 students. There is a wood shop and portables and a gym but where Grassi is different from other schools is the simple but effective steps they've taken to drastically reduce their utility bills. They replaced the old school and completed the current one in 2008 and since then they're saving $120,000 a year in utility bills. And they didn't do it with fancy, expensive technology. Learn how the meat and potatoes not only built a very energy efficient building but they did it on budget as well. 

Quick Facts
  • The project has no active solar or other on-site renewable energy systems.However, through building envelope enhancements and by largely de-coupling ventilation and thermal control, the building was able to achieve significant reductions in energy use and greatly improved indoor air quality over more conventional systems.
  • The vast majority of heating is provided by two, high efficiency, gas-fired, fully condensing boilers that circulate heated water through in-slab piping at the outer 2 m of concrete floor slab and at a temperature that is only slightly above the desired ambient room temperature.
  • The school has no mechanical air conditioning system. On warmer school days (e.g. in late spring and early fall), piping in the non-perimeter slabs is used for radiative cooling.
  • Canmore, like much of Alberta, experiences large day-night temperature swings throughout most of the year further aided by the town’s higher altitude (about 1350 m above sea level) and predominantly sunny skies. Using this cooler nighttime air, a coil in the main air handler is able to “free-cool” the building’s ventilation air and in-slab circulating water.
  • By leveraging the floor slab’s large surface area and thermal mass, a further cooling effect is achieved.
  • Other than in the gym-auditorium, a displacement ventilation system provides 100% outdoor air with reverse-flow heat recovery. Warm, stale air is displaced at low level by fresh incoming air and removed near the top of each room via ductwork connected to the heat recovery ventilators. The gym air handler is a variable flow type, providing maximum flow only for high cooling loads (e.g. during assemblies). A CO2 sensor adjusts outdoor air flow to occupant requirements

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Canadian Wood Council report on Lawrence Grassi

From the conclusion:

The Lawrence Grassi Middle School is a clear example of how wood construction can meet all building science and code challenges, and do so while meeting budget limitations and providing extraordinary architectural appeal. The school provides a bright, inviting learning environment. Exposed wood structural elements and natural lighting combine to provide an architectural appeal too often lacking in schools.

The design of the school should result in energy use that is 50% below the baseline defined in the Model National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings and is on track to obtain a LEED® Gold rating.

École Lawrence Grassi Middle School shows how a simple, rational and cost-effective construction system based on regionally harvested and manufactured materials, components and assemblies can harness local skills, enhance the local economy and create durable and functional buildings of lasting beauty and enduring cultural significance. GO >

Tags: Energy Efficiency


Case study on the energy efficiency of Lawrence Grassi middle school

Home page for Lawrence Grassi

Grassi school was an Emerald Award finalist - Here is their video