Energy-efficient school helps Hoke students learn, taxpayers save

Posted February 27, 2017 5:30 p.m. EST
Updated February 27, 2017 6:23 p.m. EST

— Hoke County is home to one of the nation's most advanced school buildings.

It's generating more electricity than it uses and saving taxpayers money all while giving students something extra to think about.

The idea for a radically different school building started in 2008.

The county needed a new middle school, but the Great Recession put it on hold.

That's when architect Robbie Ferris' design firm, SfL+a Architects, had an idea to make a building so green it wouldn't have a power bill.

Fast forward to 2013, when the county opened Sandy Grove Middle School.

The school has solar panels, high-efficiency lighting and a geothermal climate control system.

"We have solar panels facing east, and they pick up early morning sun," Ferris said.

During the day, the school will generate up to 40 percent more electricity than it consumes.

"When we generate more power than we need, we sell that power to the utility company," Ferris said.

Ferris said his pitch to the county in 2008 centered around potential savings.

"We said, 'If you let us redesign the systems in the building and lease you the building, we can reduce the payment from $1.5 million to $450,000 a year,'" Ferris said.

Teachers say the school is much more than a money saver. It's also become part of the curriculum.

Students monitor a dashboard to see exactly how Sandy Grove Middle is using energy.

"We're able to find out how our energy is produced, how much is produced," teacher George Sansbury said. "We can chart this data. We can work with it in the classroom."

The data is also helping Ferris optimize his designs for other schools.

"What we're learning is how buildings use energy, so we're learning how to conserve energy and how to use it more wisely," he said.

Ferris said he hopes Sandy Grove is a model for the schools of the future.

SfL+a Architects, which has offices in Fayetteville and Raleigh, recently opened two more energy-positive school buildings, and five more are under construction.