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Buckingham Friends School Earns High Marks for Energy Efficiency

September 27, 2018

When you step onto the wooded campus of Buckingham Friends School (BFS) in Lahaska, you get the sense that this is a place where the environment matters.

Beginning with kindergarten trips to the Honey Hollow Environmental Education Center in New Hope, BFS students develop a deep appreciation for the natural world they inhabit and an understanding of their responsibility to be good stewards of it. Ask the BFS fifth graders about the highlights of their year and they’ll undoubtedly include their class trip to the Pocono Environmental Education Center. The seventh graders will regale you with stories about the things they did and learned at the Chincoteague Bay Field Station in Wallops Island, Virginia. Ask current students or any graduate from the last 25 years about the JEM Program, and they’ll tell you that JEM stands for Joint Environmental Mission, a program which faculty at BFS developed jointly with colleagues abroad as a means of encouraging and enabling students to meet and work with peers in schools around the world to better understand environmental issues and to advocate for environmentally sustainable practices from Bucks County to Ecuador, India, Russia, and beyond.  

In April 2017, BFS hosted the 16th annual Friends Environmental Education Network Conference. Among the presenters was Matthew Eaton, an architect, BFS parent, and LEED Certification Reviewer for the US Green Building Council. During the summer following the conference, Eaton performed a Level I Energy Audit of the school campus and found that BFS was achieving a measure of energy efficiency exceeding that of 93% of comparable school campuses, a result of the school’s commitment to sustainability and years of investment in building performance and energy efficiency. Eaton conducted his evaluation and analysis in accordance with ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers) standards. A high score is achieved by demonstrating low energy consumption per square foot of floor area.

The school’s most substantial energy efficiency innovation was the 2001 installation of geothermal heat pumps, which take advantage of the stable temperature underground, for heating and cooling its largest building. A closed loop of piping circulates antifreeze from wells under a nearby playing field to air handlers in the school building where heat is extracted from the antifreeze and transferred to the air that heats the classrooms. The antifreeze then returns to the wells to absorb more heat. During the summer, the process is reversed to provide air conditioning, returning heat from the building to the ground. Before the system was operational, costs to heat the building with natural gas were upwards of $8,000 annually. Now, the geothermally heated building uses natural gas only to heat its water, and the gas bill has dropped to under $400 per year. While the electricity required to run the heat pumps does increase electric bills slightly, the installation of the geothermal system drastically reduced the school’s total energy consumption for space heating.

Another significant contributor to the school’s overall energy efficiency has been the installation of LED lighting. All lighting in the Lower School building was converted to LEDs during a 2015 renovation, and conversion to LED lighting in other campus buildings is an ongoing project. The school further reduced its carbon footprint by installing high-efficiency condensing boilers in the Lower School and the arts building in 2012, and an aging oil burner in the Jane Jackson House, home to the after-school program, is being replaced with the high efficiency heat pump just in time for winter.

Buckingham Friends School is grateful for the assurance that its attention to environmental sustainability over the past decade has led to highly efficient buildings, and will be attentive to the suggestions for further improvement in the areas of sustainability and stewardship. BFS intends to remain a leader in promoting these core values of the school as it maintains and improves its historic campus and educates its students to be alert to the challenges, opportunities, responsibilities, and rewards of taking good care of our shared environment.

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