Prairie Trails School: First in Nation on Key Sustainability Benchmark

  • Prairie Trails Early Learning CenterPeter McCullough Photography

    Prairie Trails Early Learning CenterPeter McCullough Photography

Updated 4/14/2022 11:10 AM

In 2021, River Trails SD 26 (RTSD 26) opened Prairie Trails School, a deep energy retrofit of a facility first built in 1966. This school is the nation's first net-zero energy renovated school that also meets the PHIUS+ Source Zero standard for using 40-60% less energy than conventional buildings. Moreover, it's the first net-zero energy facility in its community, meaning that it uses a total amount of energy annually that is equal to or less than the renewable energy created on-site.

Model of Sustainable Design


FGM Architects (FGMA) has worked with RTSD since the 1970s. In 2019, the District commissioned FGMA to design a comprehensive renovation of this facility and create a dedicated school for its youngest learners.

Prairie Trails School is a model of sustainable design and a learning environment that benefits the entire community. Its Net Zero components and materials include:

• Photovoltaic solar roof panels (239.5MWh annual production)

• Increased roof (R-65 average) and wall insulation

• A highly efficient VRF heating/cooling system

• High-performing windows that maximize natural daylight

• A lighting system that harvests daylight.

The deep energy retrofit of Prairie Trails School conforms with the PHIUS+ Source Zero project standard, a high-performance measure which challenges the building industry to construct facilities that can maintain a comfortable indoor environment with very low operating energy. This certification is conferred by PHIUS (Passive House Institute US), a nonprofit organization committed to making high-performance passive building the mainstream market standard.

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River Trails SD 26

RTSD 26, located in Mount Prospect, IL serves students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. Its four schools provide a healthy learning environment that allows students to grow academically and emotionally so they can become Life Ready.

The transformation of Prairie Trails School reflects the school district's deep commitment to sustainability which encompasses its operations, from its PK-8 curriculum to facilities management.

RTSD leaders project that Prairie Trails School will yield an annual savings of $32,000 per year in gas and electricity costs. A dedicated page on the RTSD website tracks Prairie Trail's energy system performance and power/energy consumption in real time. As of early February 2022, an estimated 71,139 lbs. of CO2 emission have been saved or the equivalent of 537 trees planted.

A $2 million grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation provided key funding for the overall $13 million cost of transforming Prairie Trails School.


FGMA's Commitment to Sustainable Design

FGMA's commitment to sustainable design is long-standing as evidenced by the LEED and WELL Building Standard accredited professionals on our staff and the internal Resilient Design Committee we established some years ago to cross-pollinate these practices firmwide.

FGMA is an active participant in the American Institute of Architects' 2030 Commitment, a national initiative committed to a transforming the practice of architecture and helping to ensure a sustainable future.

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