University Park, Pa. -- “The trees behind the Child Care Center at Hort Woods are naturally 10 degrees cooler. A little weather station in the woods tracks the temperature and sends the director an email suggesting that now would be a good time to cool the building. Green lights in the classrooms alert the kids to open their little sliding doors. Their doors are located at the perfect height for the tykes to take control of their own ventilation. Their actions activate the automatic opening of upper windows and turn on the overhead fans. The children just love knowing that they can participate in running the building.” Katie Rountree, the OPP construction service representative for Hort Woods loves explaining how the ventilation system works.
The Child Care Center at Hort Woods is the first Penn State building ever awarded a LEED Platinum certification.
The Child Care Center at Hort Woods is the first Penn State building ever awarded a LEED Platinum certification. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, and this prestigious award administered by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) requires intensive evaluation and verification. Hort Woods was specifically designed to meet the highest level of sustainable building criteria and provide a superior child care facility. The center incorporates many sustainable features, such as natural ventilation, the use of recycled materials, rainwater collection and reuse and natural daylighting to help conserve energy.
Misty Woods, program specialist at Hort Woods, is eager to share the unique features of the building. “Our spaces are designed specifically for children. Everyone is really surprised at the beauty and aesthetics of the space.” Linda Reichert, director of the center, said her favorite aspect of the building is the interactive ventilation system where “children love the opportunity to turn on the system and cool the building with outside air.”
Meeting the criteria for a Platinum LEED certification is challenging, and Hort Woods incorporated many innovative technologies. Katie Rountree describes one early part of the process. “We were very careful not to disturb the woods during construction, and we mapped the root systems with ground-penetrating radar to avoid placing the building over tree roots.” The finished building gently hugs the existing trees without hurting them. This design process helped create the unique shape of the building. Ground penetrating radar is the same technology that archaeologists use to find buried Roman walls and sunken ships!
The finished building gently hugs the existing trees without hurting them. This design process helped create the unique shape of the building.
Hort Woods itself is built of pre-patinated copper, bricks and certified wood trusses. Certified wood comes from monitored forest stands to ensure that harvested trees are replanted appropriately. Rapidly renewable materials such as cork flooring were used in portions of the building. The use of certified wood, recycled and rapidly renewable materials all helped achieve the platinum LEED level. Local boulders, logs and tree discs were integrated into the playground areas to enhance the natural setting. Every classroom has its own exterior door that exits to a natural, outdoor play area. There is also a roof garden and roof deck where the children can grow vegetables. Some of the vegetables even show up in the home cooked meals provided daily by chefs in the on-site kitchen facility.
Energy performance was optimized by preserving lots of shade trees near the building for natural air conditioning. The few that had to come down were turned into playground components or sliced up for teaching about tree rings. The building is heated by its own boiler system and provides special warming underneath the first floor concrete slab for the benefit of crawling infants and toddlers. Natural sunlight is harvested all through the building to minimize the need for artificial lighting, and copper light shelves are utilized to control solar input. All electric lighting is either compact fluorescent or light-emitting diodes (LEDs).
The Child Care Center at Hort Woods Center also scored LEED points for water efficiency. A 6,000-gallon cistern collects rainwater from the roof that is used to flush the toilets. (During drought or low-rain conditions, the toilets are flushed with domestic water). The toilets are also properly sized for kids and use little water due to their small size. Some rainwater is directed to outside barrels that have a faucet allowing kids to create a temporary brook in a special streambed whenever the barrel is filled.
The Hort Woods Center curriculum is integrated with the Penn State College of Health and Human Development. According to Linda Reichert, Center Director, “The HHD Family Studies students do full-time internships here, and School of visual Arts students work with the kids on a variety of sustainable arts. The School of Music students also do activities with preschoolers every week. Kids get exposure to tap dancing, ballet and even traditional Irish dancing. We are very lucky to have the campus as an oasis of resources for child enrichment.” It is a true living laboratory for Penn State.
The two-floor, 23,000 square-foot building features a brick, copper and painted aluminum exterior, and there are three natural, outdoor learning environments that were designed to accommodate the center’s varying age groups. The first floor includes five classrooms for infants and toddlers, shared and common spaces, a multipurpose area called the "imagine-atrium," an atelier, a library and outdoor patios. The second floor includes five classrooms for preschool children, family gathering areas, and library space. The building’s sustainable design intentionally focuses on educating the young children who attend the center about the importance of conserving natural resources. The center’s three natural playgrounds help young children get in touch with the natural environment. Features include a custom climber, pull-up bars, musical instruments, interactive water features and meandering pathways with special impact-absorbing surfacing material.
Misty Woods, Program Specialist at Hort Woods, loves to share the unique features of the building. “The toddlers get so enthusiastic about recycling and composting that you hear them reminding their parent ‘plastic spoons don’t go in there, that’s recyclable Mom!’” Misty’s favorite aspect of the building is the setting, “it feels like you’re outdoors even when you’re inside!”
“The toddlers get so enthusiastic about recycling and composting that you hear them reminding their parent ‘plastic spoons don’t go in there, that’s recyclable Mom!’”
Katie Rountree considers the Child Care Center at Hort Wood to be the best project she has ever worked on. Besides being the OPP building representative, she has involved three generations of her family in the project. Katie’s daughter, as a Penn State student, has taken classes in the building, and her grandson is now one of the toddlers enrolled in the facility. Katie is very proud of Penn State’s first Platinum LEED certified building. “We really kept the children in mind when designing this building and the sustainable features of the building will surely inspire the next generation to love and respect nature!”
The general contractor for the $8,300,000 project was Leonard S. Fiore, and the building was designed by Studio MLA (formerly Horizons Design). Reese Engineering was responsible for the mechanical systems and many of the LEED components. Hildebrant Learning Centers manages Hort Woods. More images and information can be found on the Penn State’s Sustainability Institute web site at www.sustainability.psu.edu/hortwoods.