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Baltimore / Education / Environment

Here’s Virginia’s first ‘net zero’ building: an eco-friendly school (with an awesome indoor slide)

The Arlington Public School District opened the brand-new Discovery elementary school on Tuesday. From solar panels to geothermal, it's a green-tech gem.

A rendering of Discovery School, with its rooftop solar array. (Photo courtesy of VMDO Architects)

What happens when a large suburban school system has a rapidly growing student population but an ever decreasing budget?

It can do what the Arlington, Va., Public School District did and build a “net zero” school to get rid of energy bills.

Tuesday was the official opening of Discovery School, which is housed in Virginia’s first-ever net zero building. Net zero means the facility produces as much or more energy from renewable sources than the school uses. When the utility bill for the school is calculated it should owe a net of nothing in energy costs, thus the name.

The opening is historic as there are only about 40 such buildings nationwide.

Discovery is situated alongside and on the same property of the Williamsburg Middle School and is the first building the county has built in over 10 years, according to WTOP.

It was needed. The school will serves over 630 students from pre-kindergarten through 5th grade.

The hope is that Discovery will also be a major money saver for a county that has seen dramatic budget cuts.

“The way you get to net zero is that you buy electricity and at the end of the month you hope you’ve generated enough electricity to cover that so at the end of the month you have a net zero or a net positive bill,” Philip Donovan of VMDO Architects, which designed the school, explained to WAMU. “And we really think that this school is going to be net zero”

The building’s features include reading nooks that children can crawl through or snuggle in with a good book, multiple outdoor play areas and Apple TVs in classrooms for 2nd to 5th graders.

The school won’t get its official net zero certification until it has been open for a year.

Until then, there are 2,000 solar panels, all LED lighting and a geothermal system made up of 70 different wells buried under the school’s playing fields.

And it’s not just about the building. The school is designed to incorporate sustainability and science lessons into the curriculum.

And just for fun, there is a large slide that travels from the second floor to the ground floor, giving the school that Scandinavian feel.

Some of the teachers even tested it out before school started:

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