Portsmouth Abbey School broke ground on a new science building last fall, the largest single initiative in the School’s history. At more than 34,000 square feet, the building has been designed to meet current and future curriculum needs by adding 7 labs, 7 classrooms, a student project lab, a seminar room, a conference room, teacher offices, and the Science and Humanities commons. But the building’s design goes beyond merely meeting curriculum needs. It is also designed to be a quintessentially Portsmouth Abbey building.
The Benedictine tradition holds stewardship and community among its key values. The design of the new science building embodies these values, and will instruct and inspire students through best practices in energy conservation, the use of recycled, renewable and natural materials, and the use of space inside and outside of the building.
The Benedictine value of stewardship is reflected most clearly through the building’s energy-efficient and sustainable design. Exceptionally durable, beautiful natural materials, including copper roofing, heavy timber beams, and a stone veneer, will make the building distinctive and hard-wearing, and provide a highly effective building envelope. Thermal comfort will be provided by radiant floors and chilled beams with ventilation by a 100-percent dedicated outside air system with an enthalpy energy recovery wheel. The building will also feature natural gas-fired Viessmann condensing boilers – one of the most economical and clean ways to generate heat – which were first introduced to the campus with construction of the two newest Houses, St. Brigid’s and St. Martin’s. Lead architect Ellen Watts notes that “the expression of the new science building on the Holy Lawn is at once deferential to its surroundings, including the church and other neighbors, but also subtly suggests its advanced high performance design with aluminum curtainwall, exterior solar shading and triple-glazing.” Director of Operations Paul Jestings agrees. His favorite features of the new building include the radiant heat, snow melt system and solar shading. But he says what excites him most is that, because of its sustainable and efficient design, “the new science building will have lower direct maintenance and operation costs.” All of these features contribute to create a building that will use 45 percent less energy than a current code-compliant building.
The new science building fosters another Benedictine tenet – community – which is also a key principle of sustainability. The design offers opportunities for flexible gathering, from the new commons overlooking the Holy Lawn to the outdoor courtyard and terrace, to the informal study space on the north end of both floors overlooking the athletic fields. Ample daylight and views foster health and productivity while providing strong indoor-outdoor connections, accentuating the beautiful campus. The landscaped courtyard will provide an outdoor gathering space while serving as part of the project’s stormwater management system. On the outside, the new building features three entrances, two of which are handicap accessible, including an attractive plaza off the Holy Lawn featuring granite paving.
When Watts and her team from Architerra were selected to design the building, they were charged with producing a design that advanced the science curriculum, reflected the Benedictine values of stewardship and community, and met the School’s budget. The new science building succeeds on all fronts.