When it comes to new school construction, growing student populations and tight budgets continue to top the list of district concerns. Yet, with the increasing emphasis on minimizing environmental footprints with greener, energy-efficient buildings, achieving LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is not far behind. In fact, for many districts, the push for more earth-friendly learning environments is not just an internal affair. For instance, according to the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) through their National Chapter Network, more than 1,000 Green Schools Committee volunteers are leading local and regional campaigns to advance green schools. Yet, the certification process can be confusing.

With the LEED for Schools program clarifying requirements, school districts are successfully climbing the certification ladder. For many, incorporating innovative design features, such as Turntable Divisible Auditoriums (TDAs) are just the ticket. By utilizing space-saving, acoustically sound and energy-efficient devices such as these, school buildings today are not just turning heads, but turning over new leaves in the green building movement.

LEED for Schools
The USGBC LEED Certification Program has been an important part of the green building landscape since 2000, but the first edition of LEED for Schools was not introduced until 2007. Updated in 2009, this subset of the LEED Green Building for New Construction (LEED-NC version 2.0) addresses the unique needs of school buildings. Utilizing a ranking system similar to LEED-NC version 2.0, LEED for Schools awards certification levels (Basic, Silver, Gold and Platinum) based upon the number of 100 possible LEED points or credits a school building receives.

Achieving LEED certification in today’s green-minded world is a feather in any school district’s cap, but even more important are optimizing available space and creating healthier learning environments. The USGBC Center for Green Schools states, “Studies have demonstrated the direct benefits of better lighting, air quality, acoustics and temperature control on student health and academic performance.” Because of this, many school districts are concentrating on obtaining LEED credits such as Joint Use of Facilities, Thermal Credit and Enhanced Acoustical Performance. In the process, they are discovering the benefits of TDAs.
Use of TDAs
While TDAs look futuristic, their tried and true mechanism — a large rotating turntable — has provided unique space-saving options to businesses for over 60 years, from revolving restaurants to automobile displays. But TDAs go a step beyond the traditional turntable, offering a seamless way to increase or decrease seating in large areas.

To understand how a TDA works, envision a large circular platform hosting a customized number of seats, which swivels 180 degrees forward for large gatherings (such as school musicals or guest lecturers) or turns away to create a smaller sound-proof area (such as a classroom or study zone). Basically, TDAs divide larger rooms into smaller sections and can help schools reach their LEED certification goals.

LEED Requirements
A prime example comes from Kentlake High School in Kent, Wash. In lieu of a conventional auditorium requiring 13,400 of the school’s available square footage, Kentlake installed two 125-seat TDAs, saving 2,500 square feet, and gaining three instructional areas, adaptable to 600-, 475- or 350-seat configurations. By LEED’s standards, the school created a multifunctional space. But as a bonus, the school saved $130,000 in construction costs. In addition, by utilizing the TDAs instead of the auditorium for smaller groups throughout the day, Kentlake addressed the Thermal Comfort requirements for LEED. A typical school auditorium is used only 10 percent of the time, yet often consumes 90 percent of the building’s energy. By regulating individual TDA thermostats, schools can avoid wasteful auditorium energy costs.

Energy efficiency in school auditoriums is a major concern, but acoustics are equally important. The Ernest Stroud Hall, located in the Fine Arts Magnet High School in Jonesboro, Ga., is one of Atlanta’s largest auditoriums, hosting between 400 and 500 school and community events each year. Making the simultaneous performances possible are two TDAs, one with 250 and the other 350 seats, respectfully. But additionally, the TDA’s sound-absorptive back walls keep noise to a minimum, under 45 db, and reduce reverberation time, both essential for any performance. As a result, even though the hall was built in 1990, the TDA’s structural components go a long way to satisfying LEED’s Joint Use of Facilities and Enhanced Acoustical Performance Credits.

Although the acronym TDA suggests divisible turntables are only suitable for auditoriums, schools are discovering they are ideal for any large gathering area. Oak Hill Middle School in Clearlake Highlands, Calif., installed two 24-foot-diameter turntables in their gymnasium to create two separate seating areas of 58 and 29 seats, respectively. When turned out, the TDAs create smaller coaching or practice spaces. Swiveled forward, they produce a stage and instant performance hall by using the sports bleachers for seating.

TDAs are providing additional advantages as well. For instance, with regard to reliability, TDAs last a long time. Many installed over 30 years ago are still operating today, making them greener than accordion room dividers that wear out faster and end up in landfills. And finally, although the initial square foot cost of installation is higher, the actual price of a TDA seat in comparison to a traditional auditorium seat is lower.

With today’s ever increasing student populations, new school construction is booming, prompting many schools to seek cost-effective designs to provide optimal learning environments with limited space.
Additionally, the push for greener, more efficient buildings is encouraging more LEED-satisfying construction, such as TDAs to provide multifaceted space utilization and energy efficiency. Though LEED requirements continue to evolve and certifications change, one thing is clear: school districts thinking outside the design box and utilizing greener blueprints are setting the stage for future innovations and certifications down the road. And in the end, their A+ efforts in going the extra green mile, now, will benefit countless students, teachers and communities in 
the future. 

Jack Shepherd is the architectural and industrial product manager for Macton, of Oxford, Conn. He can be reached at [email protected].