PS 59 Becomes NYC's First SCA-Certified Green School

In September 2008, the P.S. 59 opened its doors as the first public school in New York City to achieve compliance with the sustainable design standards mandated by the City Council for all public construction. The design radically transformed a 90-year old residential building into a neighborhood elementary school, maintaining the building’s historic architectural character while announcing the school’s presence with a striking intervention crowning the building’s roofline. EE&K guided an unusual public-private partnership from initial feasibility through the City’s brand new sustainability regulations and in the process created a new community gathering place in Manhattan’s dense Upper East Side. The design challenge was all the more remarkable given the 19-month period between the initial feasibility studies to opening day.

New York’s First Green Public School
EE&K’s knowledge of sustainable design techniques allowed for rapid development of a strategy to respond to the SCA standards, which are based on the USGBC’s LEED Rating Guidelines.

The building meets the highest requirements for energy usage, water usage, and environmental air quality. The resulting design is based on a holistic approach to environmental responsibility, most notably:

• PS 59 is heated with Con-Ed steam produced as a by-product of electrical generation. It has no boilers, consumes no fossil fuels, and produces no carbon dioxide emissions.

• A state-of-the-art Building Management System (BMS) monitors air temperature throughout the building and continually adjusts the base systems to optimize both comfort levels and energy consumption.

• Environmental impacts were monitored throughout the design and construction with a waste management program that assured that all waste materials were tracked throughout demolition and construction, and then recycled.

The School as Community
EE&K had two goals: to create a Community Place in the heart of the Upper East Side and to allow the school itself to be envisioned as a series of places.

The school was designed to maximize community access for multiple uses. The new gym, cafeteria, and a community room for parent activities allow frequent visits by parents and siblings and created a much-needed community space for meetings and other community functions. Among the biggest design challenges was retrofitting a building that was originally designed to house small-scale dorm rooms to accommodate a public school gymnasium. A top floor gym required removing columns and redistributing the weight of the roof via transfer beams. EE&K along with acoustical consultants, Shen Milsom Wilke developed a floor system supported by springs that allows the floor to “float,” creating a noise-dampening buffer between the gym and the classrooms below.

Using Color and Form to Express the Energy of the School and its Students
The goal was to create a building that functioned as more than just a container for the school. Rather, to design the exterior and interior to express the tremendous energy of the school and its students. A vibrant color palette and bold forms were used to give the building a new dimension.

Existing conditions constrained the width of the corridors. EE&K used two devices to break down the tunnel effect created by long narrow corridors: staggering the walls inside and outside of the existing columns, and using bold and dynamic accents to provide the corridor with rhythm and tie together ceiling light fixtures, walls and floor tile patterns.

On the roof, this idea expressed through an undulating, perforated metal screen that camouflages the height of the gym and provides a protective enclosure for the playground. The screen adds a playful, contemporary element to the building’s historic facade while subtly picking up on its proportions and alluding to the distinctive pergola of the original building.