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Child Care Center at Hort Woods


Teaching Children the Importance of Conserving Resources and that Sustainability Can be Fun

Unlikely as it sounds, the HVAC system at a child care center on the Penn State University Park campus is instilling in children a love of nature. How? By enabling them to feel and appreciate their vital connection to it. More than that, the innovative system is a teaching tool, saves the university money and keeps grownups comfortable, too.

Giving a Green Light to Open the Windows

What the HVAC system does is conceptually simple: Brings outdoor air inside whenever weather conditions – temperature and humidity – are right. For a couple of reasons, this is more often than you might think in the four-season Central Pennsylvania climate. First, the Hort Woods Child Care Center really is located in the woods, a little pocket of temperate microclimate on the otherwise built-up campus. Second, people perceive outdoor air – with its associated breezes, smells and sounds – as comfortable across a wide range of temperatures.

Just how the system does its job is a little more complicated and, because it brings kids into the mix, a little more fun. When the weather is right, an outdoor sensor among the trees sends a signal, and green lights go on inside alerting staff and, importantly, students to open up the windows. The sophistication behind all this simplicity was the science and computer power required to model air flow so that the engineers could appropriately size and place the windows, and power and aim the supporting fans.

Kids and teachers alike greet the lights happily when they flash green for the first time in the year, usually in early March, their advent a learning opportunity about humans’ persistent reliance on natural cycles. The Child Care Center was completed in 2012, and for several years thereafter the mechanical engineer who did the design received a happy phone call from the director on that day, too.

A LEED Platinum Sustainable Design by a Top-Notch Team

The two-story classroom building incorporates more sustainable features, such as recycled materials, rain-water collection and reuse, and natural day lighting. In fact, it is the only building on the campus to have achieved LEED Platinum certification. Likewise, everything about the design supports kids’ understanding of the importance of conserving resources.

Penn State’s 23,000 square foot Child Care Center at Hort Woods was designed by studioMLA, with lighting design as well as mechanical, plumbing, and electrical engineering services contributed by Reese Hackman.

Over the years, because the center is located in RH’s own hometown, the children of many staff members have enjoyed the green lights and fresh air for themselves.