One of the first Michigan high schools to seek and obtain LEED certification, Whitmore Lake High School is also one of the rare Midwestern projects to incorporate a geothermal field and pond.

LEED Silver certified, work involved dozens of green building strategies, such as low-emitting paints, carpet, and adhesives; reflective PVC membrane on the roof; low-E tinted windows to increase natural light while reducing glare and heat gain/loss; motion sensors; waterless urinals; use of local materials; and recycling. In fact, 83% of all potential construction waste was recycled. The high school itself is a teaching tool for students.

A Lesson in Energy Efficiency
At the heart of the LEED effort was the geothermal system that heats and cools the building and provides hot and cold water, making use of the earth's renewable energy.

As described by the Loop Group, designer and installer, “The earth’s natural heat is collected by a series of plastic pipes. A portion of the piping system is submerged in the bottom of a pond. Another series of pipes is buried six feet below the earth’s surface, where temperatures are nearly constant year ’round. Fluid circulating through the pipe system absorbs heat from earth, and is pumped into the building. The process is reversed in summer.” Sounds straightforward enough, but the installation area required 250,000 feet of piping! The advantages? Conservation of fossil fuels and reduction in heating and cooling costs.

No scope was sacrificed. Many projects scrap LEED goals when money runs short. We didn't! One major change: Initially, the geothermal field had been sited under the baseball diamond, 600 feet from the school. However, by moving the geothermal field closer to the school, we cut the amount of piping required, and still left room for future expansion, SAVING $100,000.

Beyond Classrooms

The school, built for 800 students, encompasses advanced science labs, leading-edge technology labs, a media center focused on computer research skills, a TV broadcast booth, theatre, cafeteria, competition and therapy pools, a two-court gym, a weight-training room of college caliber, football stadium, and ball fields. Wayfinding is friendly, and while security is strong, the intelligent 155,000 SF layout permits community access to recreational areas.

The project finished out exactly on budget, an outcome made possible through intensive planning, close coordination, and the owner's vision and ability to hold the line on changes. Together, the team provided tremendous scope for what – in today's market – is a conservative budget. And thanks to green measures, life-cycle costs are diminished.

Even more, in this community that treasures nature, the emphasis on environmental awareness helps nurture such sensitivity in tomorrow's leaders.