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New ‘net-zero’ elementary school set to open in Arlington

Discovery Elementary School, located next to Williamsburg Middle School in north Arlington, is the county's first new elementary school in more than 10 years.

ARLINGTON, Va. — A new state-of-the-art elementary school is set to open Tuesday. The building only uses the energy it creates, and there’s an indoor slide just for kicks.

Discovery Elementary School, located next to Williamsburg Middle School in north Arlington, is the county’s first new elementary school in more than 10 years.

Slight construction delays have moved open houses — scheduled for new students and their families this week — to the middle school next door. The school system’s head of construction is confident the school will open on time.

Steve Stricker says all parts except the gym are set to be completed by Tuesday. The final part of the school that does not yet have a temporary occupancy permit is scheduled to be inspected this week.

Discovery is designed to serve 630 students from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade.

The design includes solar panels and geothermal walls that could help students learn while contributing power back to the grid.

The goal of the “net zero” building is to produce as much or more energy from renewable sources than the school uses.

Principal Erin Russo says a digital dashboard that tracks energy usage and other statistics will be displayed in the lobby, and available in classrooms so that teachers can use real data in lessons.

There are fewer than 40 verified net-zero buildings in the United States. Three of them are full-sized schools like Discovery.

The design also includes features that emphasize sustainability and science lessons for the students.

Arlington, like many other school systems in the D.C. region, has overcrowded classrooms at a number of its schools. The superintendent has proposed adding dozens more classroom trailers at other schools to create more space until other schools can be built.

The debate over new schools and other ways to address crowding has included questions about location, design and concerns about putting so many students in trailers.

The county school board has been especially focused in the last year or two on adding new seats for middle school students, but there are other plans in the works, too.

Discovery is across the street from where John Glenn lived when he first went into space.

In turn, the school feels more like a children’s science museum than a typical classroom setting.

There are outdoor play areas, nooks that the youngest students can crawl into and read, and Apple TVs that allow second- through fifth-graders to display their own work from iPads or laptops.

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