Forest Edge is first 'Net Zero' school in Wisconsin

Forest Edge Elementary School second-grader Juliana Mueller checks out information about the school’s “green roof” last year.

Even with classrooms at limited capacity, a lot of energy was generated in the inaugural year at Forest Edge Elementary School – both from students and from the building’s energy-efficient design.

After a year of operation, the building itself has generated as much energy as it used, and on Wednesday, Sept. 1, it officially became the first Net Zero Energy (NZE) school in Wisconsin.

The building — which was the main item in a $47 million referendum in 2018 — combines solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling and a battery system with other modern features for energy sustainability and features educational materials explaining how it does so.

Oregon School District superintendent Leslie Bergstrom credited school board and district officials past and current for sustaining a “ long-standing commitment to being leaders in education and environmental stewardship.”

“With that in mind, we focused on creating the best design for student learning that also incorporated technologies to efficiently use and conserve energy,” she wrote in a district news release.

The building’s design has several innovative features that allow for energy savings, starting with 99 geothermal wells that extend 406 feet into the ground and feed pumps that heat and cool it efficiently. A rooftop solar array of 1,704 panels produces electricity, and electrochromic glass automatically tints exterior windows to maximize sunlight.

When the building produces more energy than needed, a 125-kilowatt battery stores it for future use. Then, when there is more energy produced than needed, the school can sell it back to the utilities to add to the power grid.

No natural gas or other fossil fuels are used in the building.

The school also includes a variety of learning stations to help students learn about energy production. Viewing areas showcase the green roof and solar arrays, graphics describe elements of the school, and monitors display a real-time energy dashboard with ongoing energy performance compared to the net zero energy target.

District business manager Andy Weiland said the investments made at Forest Edge will save the district around $60,000 a year.

“It has been a privilege to lead a project that will have such a positive impact on the environment and offer great learning opportunities for students,” he said in the news release.

Email Wisconsin Media Group reporter Scott De Laruelle at sdelaruelle@wisconsinmediagroup.com

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