The Knik community is a rapidly growing area in the rolling hills of southern Alaska, ten miles from the nearest town. Native boreal birch forests provide a stunning setting for the new Dena’ina Elementary School, which flexibly accommodates the student population while providing an important gathering center.
Residents sought a facility that celebrates local heritage while providing space for community events after-hours. Intensive workshops with the district, staff, and community resulted in a responsive learning environment. Design goals included simplifying exterior massing, zoning for community uses, a dynamic gathering area, introducing natural light into all educational settings, establishing safe entries, enhancing passive site observation, and creating a high-performance, energy-conscious school.
The lack of daylight during much of the school year posed a significant design challenge. The team needed to create a bright, kid-friendly environment that capitalized on available daylight, so incorporated colored glass and interior windows to capture and reflect light during the long winters. Detailed elements offer extensive exploration of scale, natural light, color, and transparency. The simple primary palette carries through from the playground equipment to the windows, carpet, furniture, collaborative learning nooks, and artwork. The colored glass and clerestory windows activate the interior, adding brightness and fun for students.
Flexible spaces allow students to work alone or in groups, and teachers can rearrange furniture to accommodate a large group lesson. Common areas allow for customized learning as well as community gatherings after hours, creating a local hub that unifies students and their families in this remote area.
Overall building performance was a design driver at Dena'ina Elementary, beginning with conceptual massing. A compact energy efficient form benefited the program, efficiency and cost. Classroom spaces were organized to the south for maximum daylight. A fully glazed clerestory window atop a central commons area further reduces the need for electric lighting.
Responding to the Alaska climate, the building is solar-oriented and massed with a compact shape to minimize the envelope and associated heating or cooling loads. Plentiful daylight through thoughtful planning aligns clerestories by the sun's angle throughout. This brings lights to the deepest areas of the floor plan and helps reduce energy use during winter. Interior and Exterior Glazing is designed and located to preserve views to nature everywhere within the school. Landscaping surrounding Dena'ina includes native or naturalized species appropriate to the zone and microclimate of the school’s surroundings.
Highly efficient HVAC systems, including radiant perimeter heating panels and displacement ventilation, were used. A 100% LED lighting package with daylight harvesting sensors minimizes the use of electricity when not needed, and the overall floor plan of the buliding is highly flexible which reduces square footage. Due to this, the new building caused minimal disturbance to the natural site.
The design team, beginning at concept design, evaluated potential energy reduction based on our firm’s commitment to the 2030 challenge. We evaluated energy use at Schematic Design and Construction Document phases to make sure the project was on target for energy reduction goals and client needs.
- Predicted EUI in kBtu/sf/yr excluding on-site renewable energy contribution: 69.0
- Predicted EUI in kBtu/sf/yr including on-site renewable energy contribution (carbon offsets will not be counted): 69.0
- Predicted % regional energy reduction per Energy Star Target Finder: 40 % reduction from Energy Star baseline of 115.0
- [Optional] Actual Predicted EUI in kBtu/sf/yr including on-site renewable energy contribution (based on one-year utility records): N/A
Since there are no public transit options in this area, Dena'ina improves community connectivity by serving as an after-hours space for secure local functions. The large, open spaces within the building are flexible and can transform to serve community functions after hours, a local amenity that did not previously exist. Significant planning sessions were held to ensure all stakeholders’ needs were met. This included staff, students, families, administration, and community members.
There are 97 parking spaces and approximately 500 regular occupants, equaling 0.2 parking spaces per occupant.
Percent (%) precipitation managed on site: 100%
Percent (%) waste water reused on site: 0%
Percent (%) annual regulated potable water use, gallons/sf/yr: 0%
Percent (%) regulated potable water reduction from baseline: 33% reduction from baseline
Material selections at Dena'ina were chosen in regard to both physical and mental health when addressing interior environmental quality:
• Color-changing light in central space to enhance mood of students and teachers during long, dark winter days
• White walls with colored glass and perforated metal help create dynamic lighting when sunlight is available
• Expansive walk-off area at entry to keep pollutants and weather-related mess from tracking into the building
• Zero VOC paints
• High-recycled content ceilings
• High-recycled content carpet backing
• 100% recycled nylon carpet at select locations
• Natural cork for tackable display walls