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A Transformed Timber Barn

Ma Specialfeaturesustainabledesign  Jul15 1

Living building teaches students sustainability


Photo: Design Imaging Studios

The Commons at the Harley School in Rochester, N.Y., is the first PreK-12 education space in the country to offer students multiple dimensions of education based on creating a sustainable future.

 "Including the recycled frame of a 100-year-old timber barn frame from Victor, N.Y., this 'living building' strives to generate its own energy, heat and cold air with renewable nontoxic resources, and capture and utilize water and carbon in its greenhouse," says Aimee Lewis, director of communications and press relations at The Harley School.

Students can learn about sustainability and develop real-world skills such as solving problems, making decisions and dealing with mistakes. A control center in the building allows students to set the temperature of the building, monitor how much energy is produced and track the building's energy use through the seasons. The goal is initially to bring the building to net zero status in energy, water and carbon dioxide consumption, and eventually to produce more energy than it uses.

"Harley students are active participants, working toward a net-zero operation in energy and carbon dioxide by managing its operations," says Lewis. "This includes social aspects and an understanding of the impact of one's behavior on both the environment and personal social community. The Commons supports a rich social curriculum that puts our students in charge of resource use. Students are offered unique and creative educational experience that challenges them to think differently about science and our environment as a whole."

The building was designed to be a teaching tool. "The intent was for the student to design and implement systems to enhance the operations and sustainability of the facility," says Ken Motsenbocker, CFO of The Harley School. "For example, a solar chimney was designed into the building. However, the vents needed to properly run the chimney were not automated. The students have been working to understand how the system could work and build their own solutions. There are a variety of such systems. Initially one might think that it is unfinished. Several other examples include: humidity control in the greenhouse, energy production and monitoring, and occupancy sensors for the air circulation system."

Photo: Design Imaging Studios

Insulated metal wall panels from Metl-Span, Lewisville, Texas, played a part in this concept, says James Burm, senior project manager, Nichols Construction Team, Rochester, the building's general contractor and metal and tilt-up insulated concrete wall panel fabricator and installer. "Four-inch metal wall panels clearly became the material to accomplish the project's energy criteria," he adds. "Not only that, but they (along with insulated concrete wall panels) became the finish interior wall system saving money on metal framing, drywall and finishing." "Metal just naturally seems like a good choice for sustainable architecture," adds Christopher Costanza, RA, AIA, LEED AP, architect at 9X30 Design Architecture LLP, Rochester. "It performs well structurally and thermally, lasts for generations, and can be recycled at the end of its life cycle. We chose a standing seam, high-lock metal roof (manufactured by All Metal Works, Gasport, N.Y., and installed by Reliance Contracting, Rochester) for its ability to accept photovoltaic panel mounting (from M X Solar, Somerset, N.J.) without roof penetrating fasteners. Insulated metal panel siding was chosen for its durability, ease of custom insulation values and long-span capabilities reducing on-site installation time."

The roof is constructed with 8-inch structural insulated panels provided by Thermal Foams, Buffalo, N.Y., with the standing seam roof applied over these panels.

  • Costanza lists its sustainable building components as:
  • Recycled and reclaimed materials
  • LED lighting
  • Two 24-foot solar chimneys
  • 84 20-kW photovoltaic panels
  • Geothermal heating
  • A 300-gallon rainwater collection tank
  • A green wall
  • A 600-square-foot green roof
  • A 1,000-square-foot greenhouse for sequestering carbon

"One hundred-year-old timber barn frames are actually much more forgiving than you would think, so much so, that the Mennonite crew assembling the barn frame used chainsaws to make many of the cuts," says Costanza. "The timbers are old growth wood and very strong. And the barn was disassembled in such a way that each piece was numbered and drafted into a CAD file. When the timbers finally came to the site, a Mennonite construction crew familiar with timber frames assembled the entire frame in a few days."

Photo: Design Imaging Studios

The barn was framed on the third floor. "Panel attachments were accomplished by adding metal and wood cleats to the timber framing at fastening points," Burm says. "These cleats were positioned in perimeter areas that would not be visible from the interior of the building, and also allowed us to plumb and straighten the old timber beams and columns."

New York City-based design consultant Tom Johnson is the initial designer who Costanza worked with closely to develop the design. "One day, after we had a design charrett, [Johnson] called me when he got home and said, what if the greenhouse is just a monolithic piece of glass that leans against the barn?'" Costanza says. "The final design form progressed from there." While the monolithic piece of glass was a design concept, the actual greenhouse (glass and extruded aluminum mullions) came from Solar Innovations Inc., Pine Grove, Pa.

The 2015 Metal Architecture Award judges were very impressed with the Commons, recognizing that everything about it is, top to bottom, based on some type of sustainable method. They cited the 13-inch sandwich panel wrap used on the original building to retain the form and not destroy it, while at the same time making it energy efficient. "They started with conservation before technology," they said. "Taking old structures and not destroying the old form is ultimately exciting."


Sidebar: The Harley Commons, Rochester, N.Y.
Completed: January 2014
Total square footage: 15,000 square feet
Owner: The Harley School
Architect: 9x30 Design Architects LLP, Rochester,
General contractor, metal and tilt-up insulated concrete wall panel fabricator and installer: The Nichols
Construction Team, Rochester,
Standing seam metal roof installer: Reliance Contracting, Rochester,
Greenhouse (glass and extruded aluminum mullions) supplier: Solar Innovations Inc., Pine Grove, Pa.,
Metal wall panels: Metl-Span, Lewisville, Texas,
Photovoltaic panel mounting: M X Solar, Somerset, N.J.
Standing seam metal roof: All Metal Works, Gasport, N.Y.,