A new 10-story downtown Raleigh building that will house Exploris School and other tenants is expected to generate so much electricity, some tenants won’t even get a power bill.
The “energy positive building” will be built on the 5.9-acre site of a former Duke Energy data center at 120 Kindley St., near the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts. Exploris acquired the site for $4.4 million in May of 2016. The facade of the futuristic steel, glass and concrete building will be covered by enough solar panels to annually power 121 North Carolina homes.
Dubbed an “energy positive building,” it is expected to generate more electricity than the building needs to operate, said Robert Ferris, CEO and president of SfL+a Architects, the Raleigh firm that designed the building.
“I think this will be indisputably the most cutting edge building in the country,” said Ferris, who also leads Firstfloor K-12 Solutions, which will manage the building after it is completed.
Both firms plan to move operations into the new roughly $65 million building, which is 50 percent leased, said Barry Buckman also with SfL+a Architects.
Crews have begun preparing the site, and office tenants are expected to move in by the end of the year. Exploris could be ready for students in the fall of 2018, Buckman said.
The space allows Exploris to consolidate its elementary and middle schools on a single campus, said Summer Clayton, Exploris’ executive director. Exploris Middle School is now at 401 Hillsborough St., next to the State of Beer craft beer and sandwich shop, while the elementary school operates out of trailers on New Bern Avenue.
The charter school also plans to increase enrollment from about 420 to 650 students.
School leaders found there was curriculum potential in the building, because it can serve as a tool for teachers, said eighth-grade teacher Shannon Hardy. The location also keeps students close to downtown Raleigh, an important part of the school’s mission, said Clayton.
In addition to the huge solar array, the building will have a variety of energy-saving technologies like a geothermal heating and cooling system, which uses underground pipes to cool water in the summer and warm it in the winter.
All sorts of sensors will collect data about the building’s systems and a central computer will identify trends in energy usage and water consumption.
“It just brings all this data back and tries to make something meaningful out of it,” Buckman said.
Exploris will occupy about 55,000 square feet in three stories of the building. It will have banks of windows and glass walls to allow sunlight across the building, Buckman said.
The building covers 3 acres and is the first of what one day could be a campus with four 10- to 20-story buildings, Buckman said.
School designs call for 18 classrooms, an art room, a music room, two special education rooms and a multi-use space. Outside, the grounds feature an outdoor classroom, a wellness space and trails. The City of Raleigh hopes to one day integrate the trails into its greenway system.
SfL+a specializes in school design and has designed 11 energy positive buildings, Ferris said. The Kindley project is the tallest most challenging, but the company was able to add enough energy saving features to make it work
“We can do so much more,” Ferris said. “This is just scratching the surface of where we’re going.”
Exploris’ space is expected to cost about $20 million, which will be financed by about $19 in municipal bonds, Clayton said. The school also hopes to raise an additional $1 million to fund extra technology.
Hardy said she hopes that the Exploris school will serve as a model for other schools in Wake County and beyond, because it is less expensive has fewer square feet per student than a typical public school.
“It is not a unique charter school story,” Hardy said. “This is a really exciting, revolutionary and new perspective on how we can design schools.”