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New Day School: Oregon's first net-zero preschool

New Day School has been specially designed to allow kids to breathe the cleanest air possible all while using zero energy.

PORTLAND, Ore. — If this pandemic has taught us anything, it's the importance of clean air to breathe and a safe place to learn or work.

A Portland preschool has been specially designed to allow kids to breathe the cleanest air possible all while using zero energy.

It's called New Day School. In 2019, the more than 40-year-old building was renovated to become a first of its kind in the state. It was the first very first zero-energy preschool.

Laura Squillace is an architect with Green Hammer and helped with the renovation. 

"What that means, simply put, is that it needs zero energy from the power the utility grid," said Squillace

Instead the school gets all of its clean and renewable energy from rooftop solar panels.

But, it's not that simple. In order to avoid the need to pull energy from the grid, the school first had to reduce the amount of energy it uses.

The first step was reconfiguring the classrooms and putting in more windows.

"What that does is that it lets all that natural light in so you don't have to turn on those LED lights most of the time," explained Squillace.

The next step was to add batteries to store some of that solar power to use when the sun isn't shining.

And third, the architects sealed up any air leaks and installed triple paned windows.

Inside, they put in only nontoxic materials.

Even the linoleum floor is healthy.

"It's essentially made out of flax seeds and it off gasses omega 3s," Squillace said. 

But, the healthy air doesn't stop there. The school also installed a high-tech ventilation system. 

"It supplies 100% clean filtered air from the outside and it's adjusted, the flow of that air is adjusted, by carbon dioxide sensors in each room," said Squillace.

"The air quality and the air we're breathing is really nice so you're more alert and you're more present," said the school's director, Didi Anandakrsnapriya.

Green Hammer is committed to zero energy building. It's philosophy: we only have one Earth, but we also have the ability to protect it. We just need to be a little creative.

"It's not only possible to retrofit our existing commercial buildings and our residential buildings to be zero energy, but it's really imperative that we do so," said Squillace. "So that we can meet our global climate change goals and reverse global warming."